NORMAN, OK (WUSA)Today was the first day of the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Experimental Warning Program in Norman, Oklahoma, and it has already been quite an adventure! My flight landed this morning, and I headed right to the National Weather Center to start the training process. The first thing I learned is that the NWS houses several different facilities, such as the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), Norman's local Weather Forecast Office, and weather programs for the University of Oklahoma. You can find a bunch of photos on my Facebook page!
During this program, which NOAA is calling the "Big Spring" experiment, I am working with other forecasters from National Weather Service offices around the country to test computer programs. These computer programs were designed to make it easier to spot storm cells that could produce severe weather. Not every thunderstorm is severe, as you may know, so it's important to be able to distinguish the severe storms from other rain cells that are not as dangerous.
Today, we focused on the nation's heartland, as this was the area that our forecasting team believed was the most likely to produce severe weather. Here's a look at a radar image from today:
We used forecast computer models that were developed by NASA, the University of Wisconsin, and the NSSL, along with another experimental product from the NWS office in Norman. I focused on a computer model that forecasts how unstable the atmosphere will be, thereby helping to predict if the atmosphere will support thunderstorms that are moving into it. I also worked with a different computer model that predicts, among other things, what is the greatest precipitation potential in an area (this is called maximum reflectivity).
I won't bore you with the details, but I will tell you that it was outside of my comfort zone to work with such unfamiliar computer software! On the other hand, it was really interesting to work with the people who actually developed the computer programs that I was working with. Each of these software developers is hoping that their work will end up in a suite of products to improve the severe thunderstorm forecast and tornado forecast capability that we have today. These programs might not just give us more advance notice for the development of severe weather, but it also could reduce the "false alarm" rate for all types of severe weather!