News

UCAR collaboration with The Weather Company to improve weather forecasts worldwide

BOULDER, Colo. — The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) today announced a new collaboration with The Weather Company, an IBM business, to improve global weather forecasting. The partnership brings together cutting-edge computer modeling developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with The Weather Company's meteorological science and IBM's advanced compute equipment."This is a major public-private partnership that will advance weather prediction and generate significant benefits for businesses making critical decisions based on weather forecasts," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "We are gratified that taxpayer investments in the development of weather models are now helping U.S. industries compete in the global marketplace."UCAR, a nonprofit consortium of 110 universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences, manages NCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation.With the new agreement, The Weather Company will develop a global forecast model based on the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), an innovative software platform developed by NCAR and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.The Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) enables forecasters to combine a global view of the atmosphere with a higher-resolution view of a particular region, such as North America. (@UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)MPAS offers a unique way of simulating the global atmosphere while providing users with more flexibility when focusing on specific regions of interest. Unlike traditional three-dimensional models that calculate atmospheric conditions at multiple points within a block-shaped grid, it uses a hexagonal mesh resembling a honeycomb that can be stretched wide in some regions and compressed for higher resolution in others. This enables forecasters to simultaneously capture far-flung atmospheric conditions that can influence local weather, as well as small-scale features such as vertical wind shear that can affect thunderstorms and other severe weather.Drawing on the computational power of GPUs — graphics processing units — such as those being used in a powerful new generation of IBM supercomputers, and on the expertise of NCAR and The Weather Company, the new collaboration is designed to push the capabilities of MPAS to yield more accurate forecasts with longer lead times. The results of NCAR's work will be freely available to the meteorological community. Businesses, from airlines to retailers, as well as the general public, stand to benefit.Mary Glackin, head of weather science and operations for The Weather Company, said, "As strong advocates for science, we embrace strong public-private collaborations that understand the value science brings to society, such as our continued efforts with UCAR to advance atmospheric and computational sciences.""As this partnership shows, society is on the cusp of a new era in weather prediction, with more precise short-range forecasts as well as longer-term forecasts of seasonal weather patterns," Busalacchi said. "These forecasts are important for public health and safety, as well as enabling companies to leverage economic opportunities in ways that were never possible before."About The Weather CompanyThe Weather Company, an IBM Business, helps people make informed decisions and take action in the face of weather. The company offers weather data and insights to millions of consumers, as well as thousands of marketers and businesses via Weather’s API, its business solutions division, and its own digital products from The Weather Channel (weather.com) and Weather Underground (wunderground.com).

UCAR statement on U.S. withdrawal from Paris climate agreement

BOULDER, Colo. — President Donald Trump today announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, a global pact signed by more than 190 countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions. He also said he would seek to renegotiate it or forge a new agreement. Antonio J. Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), issued the following statement:Today's decision to begin withdrawing from the Paris Agreement under its current terms creates new uncertainties about the future of our climate. At a time when our economic well-being and national security depend increasingly on accurate predictions of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, investments in climate research are even more necessary so scientists can project climate change in the new policy environment.Climate change poses major risks to food and water supplies, transportation systems, and other resources in the United States and worldwide. Rising temperatures and their impacts on weather patterns are creating additional stress at a time of international conflicts, endangering our economic and military security. If average global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius — the target of the Paris Agreement — research indicates that damaging impacts, such as sea level rise, intense heat waves and droughts, and shifts in weather patterns and storms will become more severe. With today’s decision, scientists will need to focus more attention on the potential ramifications of failing to curb emissions sufficiently to meet the 2-degree target.Nations are amassing information about future climate conditions as a necessary precondition for competing in the global marketplace. Multinational corporations are seeking to mitigate their exposure to climate risks, and if they cannot get the needed information from U.S.-funded research they will go elsewhere to get the most authoritative information. U.S. rivals, including China, are conducting vigorous climate research projects that support their economic and military investments and expand their influence worldwide. Even if the United States no longer participates in climate agreements, it cannot afford to cede climate knowledge to overseas competitors.Climate research is fundamentally nonpartisan. The work under way at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in collaboration with our partners at government agencies, the university community, and the private sector, builds an evidence-based picture of the possible future impacts of climate change. As always, we stand ready to provide the results of our scientific inquiry to Congress and the administration in order to keep our nation secure and prosperous.Today's decision does not mean that climate change will go away. To the contrary, the heightened potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions poses a substantial threat to our communities, businesses, and military. The work by U.S. researchers — to understand and anticipate changes in our climate system and determine ways to mitigate or adapt to the potential impacts — is now more vital than ever.

UCAR statement on President Trump's budget proposal

BOULDER, Colo. — Antonio J. Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), issued the following statement about the federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, which the Trump administration released today following its budget blueprint in March:Today's budget proposal, which identifies the priorities of the White House, marks a major step in the months-long process by the Trump administration and Congress to  finalize the budget for the 2018 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. UCAR is working with its partners in the Earth system science community to ensure that the government continues to invest in crucial research and scientific infrastructure that saves lives and property, supports our continued economic competitiveness, and strengthens our national security.Improved understanding of the atmosphere is crucial for our nation's resilience. Last year alone, the United States experienced 15 weather-related disasters that each reached or exceeded $1 billion in costs, including tornadoes, drought, and widespread flooding. Even routine weather events have an annual economic impact of hundreds of billions of dollars, affecting transportation, supply chain management, consumer purchasing, and virtually every other economic sector. Higher up in our atmosphere, space weather events pose an ongoing threat to GPS systems, communications networks, power grids, and other technologies that are essential for the everyday functioning of our nation.Thanks to collaborations among government agencies, universities, and the private sector, scientists are developing increasingly advanced observing instruments and computer models to better understand these threats. We are gaining the ability to predict major atmospheric and related events weeks, months, or even more than a year in advance, providing needed environmental intelligence to business, military, and public safety leaders. As U.S. competitors make major investments into better observing, understanding, and predicting the Earth system, it is more imperative than ever to continue this work in order to maintain American preeminence in the world.We are concerned that the administration's proposed cuts to research into the Earth system sciences will undermine the continued scientific progress that is so vitally needed to better protect the nation in the future from costly natural disasters. This would have serious repercussions for the U.S. economy and national security, and for the ability to protect life and property. Such funding cuts would be especially unfortunate at a time when the nation is moving to regain its position as the world leader in weather forecasting.UCAR is extremely grateful to the bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate that voted to sustain research funding in the current fiscal year. We look forward to working with Congress in the months ahead to maintain the level of funding needed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to support essential Earth system science research.

UCAR to co-anchor Colorado's Innovation Corridor

BOULDER, Colo. — The Colorado Innovation Corridor, a new platform to connect premier, federally funded labs with private industry, will be co-anchored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The partnership is designed to foster economic development and job creation.UCAR and NREL will be linked to private companies through the global marketplace collaborations at FORMATIV's new World Trade Center (WTC) Denver Development in the city's River North neighborhood. FORMATIV is the Denver-based real estate development firm behind the WTC Denver Development.“The resources associated with these two labs are unlike anything else in the world," said Eric Drummond, president of global strategy and chief legal officer of FORMATIV. "We are absolutely thrilled to have them as founding partners of The Innovation Corridor."An artist's rendition of the World Trade Center Denver Development (Image courtesy FORMATIV.) UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on behalf of the National Science Foundation. It plays a central role in raising awareness of the value of continued federal investment in the lifesaving, economically critical work provided by the Earth systems science community, including improved forecasts of weather, water, climate, and solar storms.The Innovation Corridor will develop connections among the national labs, FORMATIV, and the private sector, providing scientists with an opportunity to demonstrate the newest technology and meet with potential business partners and investors."Private companies throughout the Front Range and beyond will now be able to harness breakthroughs by our scientists more effectively, thanks to this new partnership," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "The Innovation Corridor will leverage cutting-edge science in ways that will generate jobs, advance technologies needed to protect life and property, and boost U.S. competitiveness in the global economy."FORMATIV is a dynamic real estate and community development company that works to create transformative commercial and mixed-use projects. Its team focuses on building innovative business and community-based ecosystems in Denver and globally.The U.S. Department of Energy's NREL is the federal government's primary laboratory dedicated to research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.Writer:David Hosansky, Manager of Media Relations

Warmer temperatures cause decline in key runoff measure

BOULDER, Colo. — Since the mid-1980s, the percentage of precipitation that becomes streamflow in the Upper Rio Grande watershed has fallen more steeply than at any point in at least 445 years, according to a new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).While this decline was driven in part by the transition from an unusually wet period to an unusually dry period, rising temperatures deepened the trend, the researchers said.The study paints a detailed picture of how temperature has affected the runoff ratio — the amount of snow and rain that actually makes it into the river — over time, and the findings could help improve water supply forecasts for the Rio Grande, which is a source of water for an estimated 5 million people.The study results also suggest that runoff ratios in the Upper Rio Grande and other neighboring snow-fed watersheds, such as the Colorado River Basin, could decline further as the climate continues to warm.Sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The mountains ringing the valley form the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, which flows south into New Mexico and along the border between Texas and Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)"The most important variable for predicting streamflow is how much it has rained or snowed," said NCAR scientist Flavio Lehner, lead author of the study. "But when we looked back hundreds of years, we found that temperature has also had an important influence  — which is not currently factored into water supply forecasts. We believe that incorporating temperature in future forecasts will increase their accuracy, not only in general but also in the face of climate change."The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was funded by the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's sponsor.Co-authors of the paper are Eugene Wahl, of NOAA; Andrew Wood, of NCAR; and Douglas Blatchford and Dagmar Llewellyn, both of the Bureau of Reclamation.Over-predicting water supplyBorn in the Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado, the Rio Grande cuts south across New Mexico before hooking east and forming the border between Texas and Mexico. Snow piles up on the peaks surrounding the headwaters throughout the winter, and in spring the snowpack begins to melt and feed the river.The resulting streamflow is used both by farmers and cities, including Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, and water users depend on the annual water supply forecasts to determine who gets how much of the river. The forecast is also used to determine whether additional water needs to be imported from the San Juan River, on the other side of the Continental Divide, or pumped from groundwater.Current operational streamflow forecasts depend on estimates of the amount of snow and rain that have fallen in the basin, and they assume that a particular amount of precipitation and snowpack will always yield a particular amount of streamflow.In recent years, those forecasts have tended to over-predict how much water will be available, leading to over-allocation of the river. In an effort to understand this changing dynamic, Lehner and his colleagues investigated how the relationship between precipitation and streamflow, known as the runoff ratio, has evolved over time.Precipitation vs. streamflow: Tree rings tell a new storyThe scientists used tree ring-derived streamflow data from outside of the Upper Rio Grande basin to reconstruct estimates of precipitation within the watershed stretching back to 1571. Then they combined this information with a separate streamflow reconstruction within the basin for the same period. Because these two reconstructions were independent, it allowed the research team to also estimate runoff ratio for each year: the higher the ratio, the greater the share of precipitation that was actually converted into streamflow."For the first time, we were able to take these two quantities and use them to reconstruct runoff ratios over the past 445 years," Wahl said.They found that the runoff ratio varies significantly from year to year and even decade to decade. The biggest factor associated with this variation was precipitation. When it snows less over the mountains in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, not only is less water available to become streamflow, but the runoff ratio also decreases. In other words, a smaller percentage of the snowpack becomes streamflow during drier years.But the scientists also found that another factor affected the runoff ratio: temperature. Over the last few centuries, the runoff ratio was reduced when temperatures were warmer. And the influence of temperature strengthened during drier years: When the snowpack was shallow, warm temperatures reduced the runoff ratio more than when the snowpack was deep, further exacerbating drought conditions. The low runoff ratios seen in dry years were two and a half to three times more likely when temperatures were also warmer."The effect of temperature on runoff ratio is relatively small compared to precipitation," Lehner said. "But because its greatest impact is when conditions are dry, a warmer year can make an already bad situation much worse."A number of factors may explain the influence of temperature on runoff ratio. When it's warmer, plants take up more water from the soil and more water can evaporate directly into the air. Additionally, warmer temperatures can lead snow to melt earlier in the season, when the days are shorter and the angle of the sun is lower. This causes the snow to melt more slowly, allowing the meltwater to linger in the soil and giving plants added opportunity to use it.The extensive reconstruction of historical runoff ratio in the Upper Rio Grande also revealed that the decline in runoff ratio over the last three decades is unprecedented in the historical record. The 1980s were an unusually wet period for the Upper Rio Grande, while the 2000s and 2010s have been unusually dry. Pair that with an increase in temperatures over the same period, and the decline in runoff ratio between 1986 and 2015 was unlike any other stretch of that length in the last 445 years.The graph shows changes to runoff ratio in the Upper Rio Grande over time. (Image courtesy Flavio Lehner, NCAR.) Upgrading the old approachesThis new understanding of how temperature influences runoff ratio could help improve water supply forecasts, which do not currently consider whether the upcoming months are expected to be hotter or cooler than average. The authors are now assessing the value of incorporating seasonal temperature forecasts into water supply forecasts to account for these temperature influences. The study complements a multi-year NCAR project funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers that is evaluating prospects for enhancing seasonal streamflow forecasts for reservoir management.“Forecast users and stakeholders are increasingly raising questions about the reliability of forecasting techniques if climate is changing our hydrology," said Wood, who led the effort. "This study helps us think about ways to upgrade one of our oldest approaches — statistical water supply forecasting — to respond to recent trends in temperature. Our current challenge is to find ways to make sure the lessons of this work can benefit operational streamflow forecasts.” Because the existing forecasting models were calibrated on conditions in the late 1980s and 1990s, it's not surprising that they over-predicted streamflow in the drier period since 2000, Lehner said."These statistical models often assume that the climate is stable," Lehner said. "It's an assumption that sometimes works, but statistical forecasting techniques will struggle with any strong changes in hydroclimatology from decade to decade, such as the one we have just experienced."Lehner is a Postdoc Applying Climate Expertise (PACE) fellow, which is part of the Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science (CPAESS). CPAESS is a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).About the articleTitle: Assessing recent declines in Upper Rio Grande River runoff efficiency from a paleoclimate perspectiveAuthors: Flavio Lehner, Eugene R. Wahl, Andrew W. Wood, Douglas B. Blatchford, and Dagmar LlewellynJournal: Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073253Writer:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer and Public Information Officer

NCAR to develop advanced wind and solar energy forecasting system for Kuwait

BOULDER, Colo. — Expanding its work in renewable energy, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is launching a three-year project to develop specialized forecasts for a major wind and solar energy facility in Kuwait."We're putting our expertise and technology to work around the world," said NCAR Senior Scientist Sue Ellen Haupt, the principal investigator on the project. "This landmark project meets our mission of science in service to society."The $5.1 million project will focus on developing a system to provide detailed forecasts of wind and solar irradiance at Kuwait's planned 2-gigawatt Shagaya renewable energy plant. After NCAR develops the system, the technology will be transferred to the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) for day-to-day operations.Salem Al-Hajraf of KISR and Antonio J. Busalacchi of UCAR shake hands over an agreement to create a renewable energy forecasting system. Behind them are NCAR scientists (left to right): Gerry Wiener, Branko Kosovic, Sue Ellen Haupt, and William Mahoney. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)The forecasts will help Kuwait reach its goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. With the ability to anticipate the amount of electricity that sun and wind will produce hours to days in advance, energy operators will be able to power up or down traditional plants as needed to meet demand."This technology will provide us with important benefits," said Salem Al-Hajraf, manager of KISR's Renewable Energy Program. "We are providing green energy to the grid using abundant sources of energy, which are sun and wind."Reducing renewable energy costsWhen electric utilities integrate power from intermittent sources such as wind or solar into the grid, they temporarily reduce or shut off traditional sources such as oil or natural gas. But if weather conditions fail to come together as expected, the utility may not be able to power up traditional plants in time to meet their customer needs.To help utility managers anticipate renewable wind energy more reliably, NCAR has designed and is constantly improving a wind energy prediction system for Xcel Energy that has saved tens of millions of dollars for the utility’s customers in Colorado and nearby states. The specialized system relies on a suite of tools, including highly detailed observations of atmospheric conditions, advanced computer modeling, and artificial intelligence techniques that enable Xcel Energy to issue high-resolution forecasts for wind farm sites.With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, NCAR has also led a national team of scientists who have developed a cutting-edge forecasting system with the potential to save the solar energy industry hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States alone through improved forecasts. The new Sun4CastTM system, unveiled last year, greatly improves predictions of clouds and other atmospheric conditions that influence the amount of energy generated by solar arrays.Adapting to new conditionsIn Kuwait, the NCAR team will build on these technologies to develop both wind and solar energy forecasts. The scientists will customize the system to predict dust storms that can blot out sunlight and damage wind turbines. They will also incorporate the influence of nearby mountain ranges and the Persian Gulf on local weather patterns."This is a great opportunity to do research into dust and other particulates, which we haven't previously needed to focus on to this extent for wind and solar energy prediction," Haupt said. "This kind of work will pay multiple dividends for energy forecasting as well as better understanding and predicting of weather in certain desert environments."Haupt and her team will collaborate with researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Solar Consulting Services in Florida, as well as with KISR."This is an exciting international partnership that will both generate significant economic benefits and advance our understanding of the atmosphere," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "In addition to reducing energy costs for our partners in Kuwait, the knowledge that we gain will help us further improve weather prediction skills here in the United States."The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is a nonprofit consortium of 110 North American colleges and universities that manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation.KISR leads and partners internationally to develop, deploy, and exploit the best science, technology, knowledge, and innovation for public and private sector clients, for the benefit of Kuwait and others facing similar challenges and opportunities. Sun4Cast is a trademark of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

NCAR to host Air Quality Open House on May 3 in Boulder

BOULDER, Colo. — The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is marking Air Quality Awareness Week with a family-friendly open house at its Mesa Lab in southwest Boulder from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3.A "brown cloud" of smog seen over Boulder, Colorado. (©UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)The free hands-on event will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about air pollution: what it is, how it's measured, what its impacts are, and how it's regulated. Visitors are encouraged to come with questions, and scientists will be on hand to provide answers, about air quality in general and Colorado's Front Range in particular."This will be everything you ever wanted to know about air quality," said Eileen Carpenter, an education specialist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which manages NCAR. "We've partnered with organizations from around the region to bring together experts on a diverse range of air quality topics, from monitoring pollution from space to monitoring methane leaks from oil and gas operations right here on the Front Range."Partner organizations include the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Regional Air Quality Council, GO3–Global Ozone Project, the University of Colorado Environmental Engineering Program, the National Park Service, Ball Aerospace, Boulder County Public Health, and NASA.Activities will include learning how plants react to smog in NCAR's "ozone garden," exploring a mobile air monitoring lab, and participating in experiments designed to help kids understand how air pollution works. Some organizations will also be displaying the instruments they use to measure air quality, and NCAR will host an ask-a-scientist table.During the event, visitors can also check out the permanent air quality exhibit that was recently installed on the first floor of the Mesa Lab. The exhibit explains the different types of pollution — including ozone and particulates — and allows the viewer to interact with a live feed of air quality measurements taken from instruments on top of the Mesa Lab.What: NCAR Air Quality Open HouseWhere: Mesa Lab, 1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder, CO, 80305When: 5-8 p.m., Wednesday, May 3, 2017For more information, visit the event website. Writer:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer and Public Information Officer

Congressional briefing on wildland fires

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scientists and fire experts are making landmark progress in developing new tools to improve the management and prediction of wildland fires, a panel of experts said at a congressional briefing today. The developments offer the potential of better protecting vulnerable residents and property from these extreme events, as well as reducing their costs. The briefing, sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), highlighted the development of new observing tools and advanced computer models to better understand wildland fires. "We're at a turning point where new technologies and advances in basic research are enabling us to tackle a major real-world problem," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "Federal and state agencies, firefighters, and scientists are all working together to develop a new generation of tools that will keep firefighters safer, reduce the costs of these massive conflagrations, and better safeguard lives and property."Bureau of Land Management firefighter near Burns, Oregon, in September 2011. (Photo by Dave Toney, BLM Oregon.)UCAR is a consortium of 110 universities that manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on behalf of the National Science Foundation. NCAR's wildland fire research includes working with Colorado on an advanced prediction system.Toll of wildland fires The costs of forest, grass, and other types of wildland fires are increasing dramatically. In 2016 alone, more than 67,000 wildfires consumed 5.5 million acres across the nation. The U.S. Forest Service spends more than $2.5 billion annually on fire management, an increase of more than 60 percent over the last decade. The total losses can run many times higher: Last year's Chimney Tops 2 fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, left 14 people dead and destroyed more than 2,400 structures at a cost of $500 million. "The money spent by the federal government on suppressing the fires is only a fraction of the overall costs, such as the destruction of houses and other property," said Michael Gollner, assistant professor at the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering. "There are more large-scale fires than there used to be, and those are the most dangerous blazes that are particularly expensive and destructive." Donald Falk, assistant professor of the University of Arizona's School of Natural Resources and the Environment, warned that decades of fire suppression coupled with drier and warmer temperatures in some regions will lead to longer fire seasons and more major fires. "The problem is not going away," he said. "It's going to get bigger, and we're going to have to live with it without breaking the bank." Wildland fires are extremely difficult to predict because they are influenced by local topography and vegetation, as well as by atmospheric conditions that, in turn, are affected by a blaze's heat and smoke. To better anticipate fire risk as well as predict a fire once it has started, scientists are harnessing new technologies. These include specialized satellite instruments and unmanned aerial vehicles to observe the blazes, as well as specialized computer models that incorporate weather-fire interactions, the density and condition of vegetation, landscape features such as elevation and topography, and the physics of fires. The researchers are working with federal and state agencies, emergency managers, and firefighters to adapt the new capabilities for real-time decision support. "Practitioners and scientists are bringing their expertise and knowledge to the table in order to create new evolutions of technology that will result in safer and more effective firefighting, enhance how we predict events and their potential impacts, and better plan for ways to prevent those wildfires we consider harmful," said Todd Richardson, state fire management officer of the Bureau of Land Management's Colorado office. "Having better guidance prior to planning your fire operations can provide critical information to the tactical operations and fire management," said William Mahoney, interim director of NCAR's Research Applications Laboratory. "Taking advantage of these important data sources and integrating these research areas provides tremendous opportunities to advance wildland fire management." The event is the latest in a series of UCAR congressional briefings that draw on expertise from the university consortium and public-private partnerships to provide insights into critical topics in the Earth system sciences. Past briefings have focused on predicting space weather, aviation weather safety, the state of the Arctic, hurricane prediction, potential impacts of El Niño, and new advances in water forecasting.

Scientists link recent California droughts and floods to distinctive atmospheric waves

BOULDER, Colo. — The crippling wintertime droughts that struck California from 2013 to 2015, as well as this year's unusually wet California winter, appear to be associated with the same phenomenon: a distinctive wave pattern that emerges in the upper atmosphere and circles the globe.Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found in a recent study that the persistent high-pressure ridge off the west coast of North America that blocked storms from coming onshore during the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 was associated with the wave pattern, which they call wavenumber-5. Follow-up work showed that wavenumber-5 emerged again this winter but with its high- and low-pressure features in a different position, allowing drenching storms from the Pacific to make landfall. "This wave pattern is a global dynamic system that sometimes makes droughts or floods in California more likely to occur," said NCAR scientist Haiyan Teng, lead author of the California paper. "As we learn more, this may eventually open a new window to long-term predictability." The high- and low-pressure regions of wavenumber-5 set up in different locations during January 2014, when California was enduring a drought, and January 2017, when it was facing floods. The location of the high and low pressure regions (characterized by anticylonic vs. cyclonic upper-level air flow) can act to either suppress or enhance precipitation and storms. The black curves illustrate the jet streams that trap and focus wavenumber-5. (Image by Haiyan Teng and Grant Branstator, ©UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)  The finding is part of an emerging body of research into the wave pattern that holds the promise of better understanding seasonal weather patterns in California and elsewhere. Another new paper, led by NCAR scientist Grant Branstator, examines the powerful wave pattern in more depth, analyzing the physical processes that help lead to its formation as well as its seasonal variations and how it varies in strength and location.The California study was published in the Journal of Climate while the comprehensive study into the wave patterns is appearing in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. Both papers were funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's sponsor, as well as by the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA.The new papers follow a 2013 study by Teng and Branstator showing that a pattern related to wavenumber-5 tended to emerge about 15-20 days before major summertime heat waves in the United States.Strong impacts on local weather systemsWavenumber-5 consists of five pairs of alternating high- and low-pressure features that encircle the globe about six miles (10 kilometers) above the ground. It is a type of atmospheric phenomenon known as a Rossby wave, a very large-scale planetary wave that can have strong impacts on local weather systems by moving heat and moisture between the tropics and higher latitudes as well as between oceanic and inland areas and by influencing where storms occur.The slow-moving Rossby waves at times become almost stationary. When they do, the result can be persistent weather patterns that often lead to droughts, floods, and heat waves. Wavenumber-5 often has this stationary quality when it emerges during the northern winter, and, as a result, is associated with a greater likelihood of persistent extreme events.To determine the degree to which the wave pattern influenced the California drought, Teng and Branstator used three specialized computer models, as well as California rainfall records and 20th century data about global atmospheric circulation patterns. The different windows into the atmosphere and precipitation patterns revealed that the formation of a ridge by the California coast is associated with the emergence of the distinctive wavenumber-5 pattern, which guides rain-producing low-pressure systems so that they travel well north of California.Over the past winter, as California was lashed by a series of intense storms, wavenumber-5 was also present, the scientists said. But the pattern had shifted over North America, replacing the high-pressure ridge off the coast with a low-pressure trough. The result was that the storms that were forced north during the drought winters were, instead, allowed to make landfall.Clues to seasonal weather patternsForecasters who predict seasonal weather patterns have largely looked to shifting sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, especially changes associated with El Niño and La Niña. But during the dry winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15, those conditions varied markedly: one featured the beginning of an El Niño while the sea surface temperatures during the other were not characteristic of either El Niño or La Niña.The new research indicates that the wave pattern may provide an additional source of predictability that sometimes may be more important than the impacts of sea surface temperature changes. First, however, scientists need to better understand why and when the wave pattern emerges.In the paper published in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Branstator and Teng explored the physics of the wave pattern. Using a simplified computer model of the climate system to identify the essential physical processes, the pair found that wavenumber-5 forms when strong jet streams act as wave guides, tightening the otherwise meandering Rossby wave into the signature configuration of five highs and five lows."The jets act to focus the energy," Branstator said. "When the jets are present, the energy is trapped and cannot escape." But even when the jets are present, the wavenumber-5 pattern does not always form, indicating that other forces requiring study are also at play.The scientists also searched specifically for what might have caused the wave pattern linked to the severe California drought to form. In the paper published in the Journal of Climate, the pair found that extremely heavy rainfall from December to February in certain regions of the tropical Pacific could double the probability that the extreme ridge associated with wavenumber-5 will form. The reason may have to do with the tropical rain heating parts of the upper atmosphere in such a way that favors the formation of the wavenumber-5 pattern.But the scientists cautioned that many questions remain."We need to search globally for factors that cause this wavenumber-5 behavior," Teng said, "Our studies are just the beginning of that search."About the articlesTitle: Causes of Extreme Ridges That Induce California DroughtAuthors: Haiyan Teng and Grant BranstatorJournal: Journal of Climate, DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0524.1
Title: Tropospheric Waveguide Teleconnections and Their SeasonalityAuthors: Grant Branstator and Haiyan TengJournal: Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, DOI: 10.1175/JAS-D-16-0305.1Writer:David Hosansky, Manager of Media Relations

UCAR praises passage of Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act

Update: April 18, 2017Today President Donald Trump signed H.R. 353, the "Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017," into law.BOULDER, Colo. — With the unanimous passage of legislation to improve weather research and prediction, Congress has taken a major step today toward strengthening the nation's resilience to severe weather and boosting U.S. economic competitiveness."This landmark legislation will save lives and property while providing business leaders with critical intelligence," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). "Today's bipartisan vote underscores the enduring value of scientific research to our nation."The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is the first major weather legislation since the early 1990s. It calls for more research into subseasonal to seasonal prediction, a priority for business and community leaders who need more reliable predictions of weather patterns weeks to months in advance. The bill also will strengthen short-term weather forecasts and smooth the way for research findings to be adopted by forecasters and commercial weather companies.Antonio J. Busalacchi. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Improved short- and long-term weather predictions have major implications for public safety and the economy. The nation experienced 15 weather and climate disasters last year that cost $1 billion dollars or more, including tornadoes and widespread flooding that left dozens dead. Even routine weather events can affect transportation, supply chain management, consumer purchasing, and other sectors, with a collective impact of hundreds of billions of dollars on the U.S. economy.Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is managed by UCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation, have estimated that weather forecasts provide an annual benefit to the American public of more than $30 billion, compared with about $5 billion spent on generating U.S. weather forecasts."Research into the atmosphere provides an enormous return on investment," Busalacchi said. "Weather affects all of us, and being able to make plans based on forecasts of likely weather conditions is literally worth many billions of dollars to households and businesses."Decades of investments by federal agencies in weather research, observing systems, computer models, and supercomputing resources are dramatically advancing our understanding of how our atmosphere works. Five-day weather forecasts now are as reliable as two-day forecasts used to be, hurricane forecasts will soon extend out to seven days, and scientists are starting to find ways to project certain events, such as droughts and heat waves, a month or longer in advance.The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is designed to strengthen:forecasts of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe stormslong-range prediction of weather patterns, from two weeks to two years aheadcommunication of forecasts, which influences subsequent decisions by public safety officials, businesses, and the publictsunami warningsthe process of moving research into operations and commercializationThe legislation (HR 353) was introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. Co-sponsors include Sen. Brian Schatz and Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Lamar Smith, Dana Rohrabacher, Chris Stewart, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, and Suzanne Bonamici.The bipartisan bill authorizes spending increases at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for weather research focused on observations, models, and more powerful computing resources. It authorizes spending for COSMIC-2 an innovative suite of micro-satellites that will provide critical atmospheric observations, with multiagency support provided by UCAR, NOAA, the U.S. Air Force, the National Science Foundation, and Taiwan's National Space Organization. The legislation also expands commercial opportunities to provide weather data while increasing the efficiency of NOAA's weather satellite programs."We are very appreciative of the work by Senator Thune, Representative Lucas, and the many co-sponsors in the House and Senate," Busalacchi said."As the United States faces an increasingly competitive global marketplace, it needs more accurate and longer-term weather forecasts," he added. "At UCAR we look forward to working with NOAA, the Department of Defense, and the other federal agencies; the private sector; and the university community to build off of the National Science Foundation investment in basic research in this essential area."

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