NCAR|UCAR hurricane experts available to explain storm behavior, potential impacts

BOULDER, Colo. — As Hurricane Harvey takes aim at Texas, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), are closely watching the storm and testing high-resolution computer models.Hurricane experts are available to explain issues such as:How we can better predict the possible impacts of hurricanes, including wind damage, flooding, and subsequent spread of disease-bearing mosquitoes;How people respond to hurricane forecast and warning messages and how risk communication can be improvedWhether climate change is affecting hurricanes and what we can expect in the future;The importance of improving weather models to safeguard life and property.Antonio Busalacchi, UCAR president (please contact David Hosansky for interview requests)An expert on ocean-atmosphere interactions, Busalacchi has testified before Congress on the importance of improving the nation's weather forecasting capabilities to better protect life and property, bolster the economy, and strengthen national security. He has firsthand experience with storms along the Gulf Coast as a part-time New Orleans resident, and he is a member of the Gulf Research Program Advisory Board of the National Academy of Sciences.Christopher Davis, director, NCAR Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Laboratory,, 303-497-8990Davis studies the weather systems that lead to hurricanes and other heavy rainfall events. His expertise includes hurricane prediction and how computer models can be improved to better forecast storms. His NCAR weather lab is running experimental computer simulations of Hurricane Harvey.James Done, NCAR scientist,, 303-497-8209Done led development of the innovative Cyclone Damage Potential (CDP) index, which quantifies a hurricane's ability to cause destruction, using a scale of 1 to 10. It can also be used to examine the damage potential for cyclones in the future as the climate warms.David Gochis, NCAR scientist,, 303-497-2809An expert in hydrometeorology, Gochis studies the causes of floods and how to better predict them. He helped develop pioneering software that is at the core of the National Water Model. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Water Prediction uses this model to provide a continuous picture of all the waterways in the contiguous United States and alert officials to potentially dangerous floods.Matthew Kelsch, UCAR hydrometeorologist,, 303-497-8309Kelsch has studied some of the biggest U.S. flood events connected to hurricanes and tropical storms. He trains scientists and forecasters from around the world on emerging hydrology and weather topics.Rebecca Morse, NCAR scientist,, 303-497-8172Morss studies the predictability of hurricane-related hazards, including storm surge and inland flooding, and hurricane and flood risk communication and evauation decision making.Kevin Trenberth, NCAR senior scientist,, 303-497-1318Trenberth is an expert on the global climate system. He has been in the forefront of scientists examining the potential influence of climate change on the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes and the increased widespread flooding that they cause.Jeff Weber, UCAR meteorologist,, 303-497-8676As an expert on hurricanes and severe weather in general, Weber closely monitors the behavior of individual storms and the larger atmospheric and oceanic conditions that influence them.

Raising forecasting skills in Africa and beyond

May 9, 2017 | Africa is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather, affecting food and water security and public health. In 2016 alone, Nigeria and South Africa suffered droughts, and Ethiopia's highlands were battered by floods.But African meteorologists have been hindered by a relative dearth of weather observing stations and a lack of access to good forecast tools and training.That's where the African Satellite Meteorology Education & Training Project, or ASMET, comes in. For 20 years ASMET, co-managed by the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research's COMET program, has helped fill the gaps by providing training to African forecasters on how to use satellite data to improve weather forecasts.Part of the African Satellite Meteorology Education & Training Project team that met in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. (Left to right) Ignatius Gitonga Gichoni, Kenya Meteorological Department; an unidentified visitor; Abdoulaye Ouerdraogo, African School of Meteorology and Civil Aviation, Niger; Vesa Nietosvaara, EUMETSAT ASMET project manager; Hama Hamidou, EAMAC, Niger; Jannie Stander, South African Weather Service; Joseph Kagenyi, KMD; Lee-ann Simpson, SAWS; and Marianne Weingroff, COMET ASMET project manager. (Photo courtesy Kenya Meteorological Department.)The project is funded by EUMETSAT (the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites), which provides the equipment to download satellite data and the data itself to African meteorological services. EUMETSAT is an intergovernmental organization of 30 European countries."Radar and observations are very limited in Africa, so the main way that forecasters get weather information is through satellite imagery. ASMET develops training on how to use it," said Marianne Weingroff, an instructional designer and COMET's project manager on the international ASMET team."The overall goal of ASMET is to reduce the impact of weather-related disasters in Africa," added Vesa Nietosvaara, ASMET project manager with EUMETSAT.The project began in 1997 when COMET conducted a nine-month training program on the instructional design process at UCAR for four meteorology instructors from the regional meteorological training centers in Kenya and Niger. They produced the first ASMET lessons and have played an instrumental role in bringing new people onto the project as it has expanded to include the weather services in South Africa and Morocco. The team selects topics of regional significance and develops the lessons, many of which are case studies.Since its inception, the ASMET team has produced 20 self-paced learning lessons, offered online and on CDs, in English and French. The lessons have been viewed in 8,100 user sessions in 164 countries, indicating an interest far beyond Africa.Building a better forecastThe lessons focus on satellite image interpretation.  It can be difficult, for example, to distinguish cloud types, and yet such interpretations can be critical in predicting storms. Beyond analyzing satellite images for general weather forecasting, the lessons cover the forecasting of high-impact events such as tropical cyclones, drought, floods, and even aviation weather.ASMET data, such as this rainfall distribution map, recently helped Kenyan forecasters prepare for a drought. (@COMET Standard Terms of Use.)"There were concerns about aviation forecasts in Africa, so several years ago we created a series of case studies to teach forecasters how to improve them by using satellite imagery to predict different types of aviation weather, such as fog and clear air turbulence," Weingroff said.Ignatius Gitonga Gichoni, an ASMET team member with the Kenya Meteorological Service, said ASMET has had a clear, positive impact on forecasting."A good example is the current seasonal drought that affected most of Kenya and neighboring countries," he said. "The forecast for the season, which we call the 'long rains' of March, April, and May, indicated rainfall at depressed levels. We issued alerts and reminders to the authorities so everybody would be aware of the impending situation. "Rallying a diverse group around shared goalsHenk Verschuur, the first ASMET project manager at EUMETSAT, cited the vitality of the program over the years. "It must be remembered that most of the team members work on ASMET outside their regular duties, which makes its longevity and success even more remarkable," Verschuur said.Both the COMET and EUMETSAT ASMET program managers say that the different cultural and religious backgrounds of the team members have made for colorful discussions. At one team meeting, Weingroff recalled, members pored over Google Earth, looking to see where everyone was from, down to their neighborhoods and even houses."For some, it was a huge deal just to finish elementary school and be selected to attend high school. Nevermind advanced training," Weingroff said. "Their lives are complex, with some working extra jobs to make ends meet, etc. I've never known people from such profoundly different backgrounds who work together with such comaraderie and dedication. We work hard but also enjoy each other a lot."Said Bruce Muller, COMET's international manager, "We're really trying to rally a diverse group of people toward the common cause of improving forecasts."Writer/Contact:Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information OfficerFunder:EUMETSATCollaborators:EAMAC/ASECNA (Niger)EUMETSAT (Germany)Kenya Meteorological Department/Institute for Meteorological Training and ResearchMorocco National Meteorology DepartmentSouth African Weather Service 

Denver/Boulder AMS Chapter - Colorado Climate Trivia Night!

The Denver Boulder Chapter of the American Meteorological Society proudly presents an evening of Colorado climate trivia with Colorado's State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken. Have you ever wondered where our historic climate data comes from? Do you have questions about how official records are compiled and what role volunteers play? Perhaps you already consider yourself a Colorado climate expert and want to use that knowledge to win prizes? Either way you can join us for Colorado Climate Trivia Night!

Denver/Boulder American Meteorological Society Event: Living in Methane Monsoons: the Bizarre Weather on Saturn's Largest Moon

The Denver/Boulder American Meteorological Society is having its second meeting of the year! Please join us as Author Michael Carrol, discusses the strange weather on Titan (with a quick survey of other outer solar system worlds), and how eventually, humans might live there. He will be selling books at cost for his author's discount of $20. He will also bring copies of "Drifting on Alien Winds", his non-fiction book about weather on other planets and moons. The novel, "On the Shores of Titan's Farthest Sea", has a section in the back called "The Science Behind The Story".

Mars Exploration

Topics:              Current and Future Missions to Mars

Discovering Water on Mars with the Mars  Reconnaissance Orbiter Team

Speakers: Christine Edwards, Lockheed Martin

               Adam Pender, Aerospace Company

When:      Thursday, November 12, 2015, starting at 6:30 PM

Denver/Boulder AMS March 19: Applying Climate Change for Planning Purposes

Have a need to plan for the potential impacts of climate change? Want to know what others are doing? Or have a general interest in climate change? Then this meeting is for you!

Come listen to a panel discussion titled 'Applying Climate Change for Planning Purposes' at the Denver/Boulder AMS March meeting.

When:  Thursday, March 19, 6:00-8:00

Where:  Large Auditorium in the NCAR Mesa Lab

Snowfall measurement: a flaky history

Matt Kelsch • January 28, 2014 | As this week’s blizzard rumbled toward the U.S. Northeast, many media outlets posted the top-10 snow events for major cities. An unusual number of snowfalls in those top 10 lists have been within the last 20 years, even in cities that have records going back to the 1800s. Why is that? Could it be climate change? Are other factors involved? Matt Kelsch has taken 6-hourly snow readings at the official weather station for Boulder, Colorado many times during more than 25 years of volunteer work as the NOAA/National Weather Service cooperative climate observer for Boulder. (Photo courtesy Matt Kelsch, UCAR.) As a hydrometeorological instructor in UCAR’s COMET program and a weather observer for the National Weather Service, I am keenly interested in weather trends. In this case, climate change is an important factor to explore, since we know that the heaviest precipitation events have intensified in many parts of the world (see related story: Torrents and droughts and twisters - oh my!). But when we turn to snowstorms in the Northeast, or elsewhere in the U.S., there is an additional factor at work when comparing modern numbers with historical ones. Quite simply, our measuring techniques have changed, and we are not necessarily comparing apples to apples. In fact, the apparent trend toward bigger snowfalls is at least partially the result of new—and more accurate—ways of measuring snowfall totals. Climate studies carefully select a subset of stations with consistent snow records, or avoid the snowfall variable altogether. Official measurement of snowfall these days uses a flat, usually white, surface called a snowboard (which pre-dates the popular winter sport equipment of the same name). The snowboard depth measurement is done ideally every 6 hours, but not more frequently, and the snow is cleared after each measurement. At the end of the snowfall, all of the measurements are added up for the storm total.  NOAA’s cooperative climate observers and thousands of volunteers with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS), a nationwide observer network, are trained in this method. This practice first became standard at airports starting in the 1950s, but later at other official climate reporting sites, such as Manhattan’s Central Park, where 6-hourly measurements did not become routine until the 1990s. Earlier in our weather history, the standard practice was to record snowfall amounts less frequently, such as every 12 or 24 hours, or even to take just one measurement of depth on the ground at the end of the storm. You might think that one or two measurements per day should add up to pretty much the same as measurements taken every 6 hours during the storm. It’s a logical assumption, but you would be mistaken. Snow on the ground gets compacted as additional snow falls. Therefore, multiple measurements during a storm typically result in a higher total than if snowfall is derived from just one or two measurements per day. That can make quite a significant difference. It turns out that it’s not uncommon for the snow on the ground at the end of a storm to be 15 to 20 percent less than the total that would be derived from multiple snowboard measurements.  As the cooperative climate observer for Boulder, Colorado, I examined the 15 biggest snowfalls of the last two decades, all measured at the NOAA campus in Boulder. The sum of the snowboard measurements averaged 17 percent greater than the maximum depth on the ground at the end of the storm. For a 20-inch snowfall, that would be a boost of 3.4 inches—enough to dethrone many close rivals on the top-10 snowstorm list that were not necessarily lesser storms! Another common practice at the cooperative observing stations prior to 1950 did not involve measuring snow at all, but instead took the liquid derived from the snow and applied a 10:1 ratio (every inch of liquid equals ten inches of snow). This is no longer the official practice and has become increasingly less common since 1950. But it too introduces a potential low bias in historic snowfalls because in most parts of the country (and in the recent blizzard in the Northeast) one inch of liquid produces more than 10 inches of snow. This means that many of the storms from the 1980s or earlier would probably appear in the record as bigger storms if the observers had used the currently accepted methodology. Now, for those of you northeasterners with aching backs from shoveling, I am not saying that your recent storm wasn’t big in places like Boston, Portland, or Long Island. But I am saying that some of the past greats—the February Blizzard of 1978, the Knickerbocker storm of January 1922, and the great Blizzard of March 1888—are probably underestimated. So keep in mind when viewing those lists of snowy greats: the older ones are not directly comparable with those in recent decades. It’s not as bad as comparing apples to oranges, but it may be like comparing apples to crabapples. Going forward, we can look for increasingly accurate snow totals. Researchers at NCAR and other organizations are studying new approaches for measuring snow more accurately (see related story: Snowfall, inch by inch).   But we can’t apply those techniques to the past. For now, all we can say is that snowfall measurements taken more than about 20 or 30 years ago may be unsuitable for detecting trends – and perhaps snowfall records from the past should not be melting away quite as quickly as it appears. Update • January 29, 2015 | Thanks to thoughtful feedback by several colleagues, this article has been updated. Paragraph 3 now includes a description of how climate studies handle the data inconsistencies. Paragraph 9 was added to describe the pre-1950s practice, no longer in wide use, of recording liquid water content only, and not snow depth. Matt Kelsch is a hydrometeorologist in UCAR's COMET Program. He specializes in weather and climate events involving water, such as floods, droughts, rain, hail, or snow. Kelsch develops and delivers educational materials designed for both domestic and international groups including National Weather Service forecasters, the military, the World Meteorological Organization, university students and faculty, government agencies, and private industry.      

Flipping the classroom paradigm

November 18, 2014 | The urge to transform higher education through online technology is making its way into atmospheric science. Benefits as well as pitfalls came to light as faculty on the front lines of experimentation shared notes in a UCAR-hosted forum on October 16. The session was part of a two-day meeting of heads and chairs of departments of atmospheric science, an event cosponsored every two years by the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. Part of the push behind the new techniques is to serve broader audiences. This is the prime motivation behind the massively open online courses (MOOCs) that have proliferated in the last three years across a wide a range of disciplines. But faculty are also trying new ways of connecting with in-residence students, as technology opens up possibilities well beyond the traditional stand-and-lecture model. The rise of MOOCs MOOCs typically allow students to sign up for free without prerequisites, with tens of thousands enrolled in the most popular MOOCs. In some cases, course credit can be earned if extra work is completed and tuition is paid. One of the key points emerging from research into MOOCs, and noted during the discussion at UCAR, is that technology is no panacea: careful design of meaningful learning interactions that take advantage of technology is still crucial for success. After an initial burst of interest and publicity, analysts have found that many MOOCs generate huge dropout rates and sometimes-mediocre learning outcomes. As noted in the New Media Consortium’s 2013 Horizon Report on higher education (PDF), some observers believe that the rapid growth of MOOCs has made it difficult to carefully analyze their impact and develop best practices. Clips from moderated panel discussions were a key part of the MOOC on climate science organized last summer by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. The 3- to 5-minute video clips originated from live webinars that included a chat function for viewer questions. (Image courtesy Anne Gold, CIRES.) “Time will settle those questions,” notes the report, “but there is no doubt that MOOCs have already had a significant influence on the future course of online learning, and deserve close attention, study, and continued experimentation.” Anne Gold (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES) led a prototype team-based MOOC this summer, Climate Science Connections: Water in the West. The course drew an international group of more than 500 participants, said Gold, who’s also experimenting with other techniques to bring climate science to groups of varying sizes using a mix of technologies. “The variety of people who participate in a MOOC is incredible—it makes it very interesting to teach in this format,” said Gold. “We had teachers, graduate students, professionals, interested public, water lawyers, policy makers, politicians, and fishermen, among others.” A few atmospheric science departments have dipped toes into the MOOC water, mainly in the realm of climate. Coursera, one of the leading MOOC companies, includes several courses related to climate and Earth-system processes in its catalog. Among the atmospheric scientists involved are David Archer (University of Chicago), David Karoly (University of Melbourne), Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Richard Somerville (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and David Schultz (University of Manchester). The CIRES course above will move to Coursera next spring. For faculty who might be toying with the idea of creating a MOOC, Schultz advises that it’s no cake walk. “I did not appreciate how time-consuming it was to build a MOOC,” he said. “I thought I’d throw my lecture material on camera and that would be it.” Smoothing the way was support from his university, including funding specifically for the MOOC that allowed creation of a virtual field trip via Google Earth. “It allowed us to take students to places in the world that support the concepts discussed in lecture,” said Schultz. Given the questions that global climate raises on environmental, societal, and political fronts, the topic seems ripe to draw the large enrollments expected in MOOCs. In contrast, Coursera doesn’t currently have a single MOOC on introductory meteorology, much less higher-level topics. (As one of the forum attendees put it, “I don’t see how you take a thermodynamics class and make a MOOC out of it.”) Eric Snodgrass (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is developing an online MOOC covering severe and hazardous weather. (Photo courtesy UIUC.) Meteorology’s first major MOOC could be the one now being developed by Eric Snodgrass, who directs undergraduate studies in atmospheric science at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He created an online version of the department’s longtime course in severe and hazardous weather; it was named the nation’s best online course of 2012 by the University Professional Continuing Education Association. Snodgrass is now working on visualizations and short video-driven lectures for a Coursera version of the online class, with an anticipated debut date of fall 2015. There’ll be plenty of high-interest material, including El Niño, tropical cyclones, blizzards, droughts, floods, and tornadoes. The course will train students of all ages to use radar and satellite imagery and computer model output to both observe and forecast extreme weather. “My goal is not only increased awareness and understanding of severe weather, but also a new or renewed passion for studying our amazing atmosphere,” said Snodgrass. Doing the flip Attracting the bulk of interest and discussion at the Boulder forum was the notion of “flipping” atmospheric science courses, an approach that’s gaining currency across large swaths of academia. In a flipped course, lectures are consumed by students outside of class through videos that can be stopped and started as needed; the classroom itself is devoted to discussion and problem-solving, with faculty on hand to help. Online assessments ensure that students have absorbed the video content before they come into the classroom. Flipping appears to hit a sweet spot, as it takes advantage of the ubiquity of video on tablets and smartphones while retaining manageably sized classes and in-person elements. A flipped class also gives professors a chance to work more closely, and more often, with students. “When you think about flipping, you really need to think about it as a course redesign,” said Kevin Perry (University of Utah). In order to carry this out, Perry and others stressed the need for faculty to consult university offices that are dedicated to online instruction. Drawing on research-honed strategies, these are often the best experts on campus in how to create a flipped class. Wendy Abshire and Tsvet Ross-Lazarov (UCAR's COMET Program) shared their perspectives on online learning practices with university department heads at an October 16 forum hosted by UCAR. (©UCAR. Photo by Bob Henson.) Several meteorology courses have been taught in flipped fashion over the last few years at the University of Oklahoma, including experimental usage of an active learning classroom, said OU’s David Parsons. “The most successful flipped courses seem to be in the area of programming, where instructor-created materials can supplement high-quality tutorials already available online,” Parsons added. Nolan Atkins discussed several meteorology classes being flipped for the first time this fall at Lyndon State University, including remote sensing, dynamics, and physical meteorology. “Student reaction before the implementation was mixed,” said Atkins. A few weeks into the process, though, many students have come around, and Atkins is feeling encouraged. He noted that flipping a course requires student buy-in, high-quality video, and hard work from faculty. The potential gains include more in-depth coverage of the course content and increased student mastery. “We’re moving away from a ‘sage on stage’ to a ‘guide by the side’,” noted Tsvet Ross-Lazarov, an instructional designer with UCAR’s COMET Program, who joined COMET senior manager Wendy Abshire at the forum. This autumn the program is testing a unique blend of in-person and online lectures, videos, animations, and student-run weather briefings, as COMET staff member Andrea Smith teaches Millersville University’s synoptic meteorology course through UCAR’s UVISIT program. Results will be presented in January at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Daria Kluver, an assistant professor at Central Michigan University, teaches a flipped course on climate change. Key elements include the Blackboard learning management system, where lectures notes, assignments, and classroom work are posted, as well as a classroom tailor-made for interaction, where students can bring graphics for in-class analysis and interpretation. Web materials are also crucial for Keah Schuenemann (Metropolitan State University of Denver), whose students each analyze and write blog posts on the impacts that climate change is expected to bring to a particular nation. At Central Michigan University, students in Daria Kluver's "flipped" course on climate change take in video lectures on their own time and then meet to discuss course material in a high-tech classroom. (Photo courtesy Daria Kluver.) Kluver stresses the usefulness of CMU’s center for teaching, where she gained relevant expertise in both pedagogy and technology. She finds that a technology-rich workspace is vital in order to get the most out of flipped teaching, especially when you consider the background of today’s college-age student.“They’re millennials. They’ve spent their whole lives with gadgets in their hands.” Does it work? Flipping actually emerged from K-12 education (or “the swamp of practice,” as COMET’s Ross-Lazarov puts it, as opposed to the ivory tower of academia). The first well-documented flipped class took place in 2007 at Woodland Park High School near Colorado Springs. Does flipping make a difference? “The results from the K-12 world have been very encouraging,” says Ross-Lazarov. A report produced by Pearson, George Mason University, and the Flipped Learning Network includes several case studies hinting at increased engagement and higher test scores. However, the report acknowledges the dearth of rigorous, empirical research to date on flipped-learning outcomes. As for higher education, studies to date suggest that flipping might be best suited to smaller upper-level courses, where motivation and interest is high. “It seems that in introductory level courses, or in courses where there is little instructional need to flip the classroom, there were no significant differences between the mean test scores of students in flipped versus nonflipped classes,” said Ross-Lazarov. Given the right setting and the right material, he added, “flipping is an exciting development—it offers a lot of potential.” Dive Deeper Presentations at AGU/AMS Heads and Chairs Conference  Session 3: Best practices for balancing lecture-based, online content, flipped, online, and massive open online courses (pages 65–108). Download the PDF (large file, 13 MB) Writer/contact:Bob Henson, NCAR/UCAR Communications          

Get a first-hand scoop on flash flooding

May 7, 2014 | Flood waters are no abstraction to UCAR’s Matt Kelsch. As torrents cascaded through creeks and neighborhoods across the Front Range of Colorado last September, Kelsch slogged through ankle-deep water to officially measure the largest 24-hour rainfall in the history of Boulder: 9.08 inches. That’s nearly double the previous record. Matt Kelsch measures the historic daily total of 9.08 inches at Boulder’s official station on September 12. A hydrometeorologist for UCAR’s Community Programs, Kelsch took the measurement as part of his regular volunteer duties with NOAA’s cooperative weather observing program. (Photo by Bob Henson, UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) The flooding, which caused an estimated $2 billion in damage, produced a stream of interviews and scientific inquiries for Kelsch. He’s a nationally recognized hydrometeorologist in UCAR’s COMET Program, which trains a wide range of specialists on environment-related science. Two webinars: weather and water On May 20 and 21, Kelsch will present two webinars on the science behind flash flooding. The content is designed for people with some background in basic meteorology; the material is taught at a beginning undergraduate level but designed to interest a broad audience. Each webinar can be taken separately, and there are no specific prerequisites. The webinars are part of a new direction for COMET: offering pay-per-view content aimed at a broader audience than the program’s traditional clients (largely weather forecasters and other science professionals at government agencies in the United States and abroad). “We’ve found widespread interest in the Colorado flooding and on flash floods in general,” says Kelsch. “We created the webinars to respond to that interest.” The webinars are also designed to help COMET test a cost-recovery model in which students in some courses pay tuition to offset the expense of course development. Kelsch’s first hour-long webinar will examine the meteorology behind flash floods, including how forecasters watch for and diagnose the potential for major flood events. The second installment will explore where the water goes once it hits the ground, including runoff, land-use factors, and stream response. Registration is $79 per webinar, or $129 for both. The webinars were presented for the first time in March, but Kelsch is always ready to include recent material. “If a major U.S. flash flood happens between now and May 21, we’ll include it,” he says.  Studying weather in action Along with years of teaching flood-related material, Kelsch has a close connection to weather in action, through his role as Boulder’s primary weather observer for NOAA and as one of the pioneer coordinators of the CoCoRaHS volunteer weather observing program. More than 10,000 people nationwide now collect daily rainfall totals for CoCoRaHS from their homes and workplaces, providing invaluable data on heavy rain and flood events. Kelsch has joined colleagues at NCAR and Colorado State University to examine the Front Range flood in detail for an overview paper now in the works, coordinated by NCAR’s David Gochis. In his webinars, Kelsch will illustrate a conceptual model of flood evolution by drawing on a wide range of noteworthy U.S. flash floods over the last few years, including the 2013 Colorado disaster as well as examples from California, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia. With strong interest from developing countries, COMET is pondering a follow-up set of flood webinars designed for regions with distinctly different needs and infrastructures. “Some of these areas have no weather radars and limited observation and forecast technologies,” says Kelsch. In addition to webinars, COMET’s acclaimed MetEd website offers more than 750 hours of free online content that has drawn more than 330,000 registrants to date. Writer/contactBob Henson, NCAR & UCAR Communications Lead scientistsMatt Kelsch, UCAR/COMETElizabeth Page, UCAR/COMET  Find out more Registration details for May 20 and 21 webinarsMetEd: Teaching and Training Resources for the Geoscience Community

Government budget cuts force leading meteorological training program to seek donations

BOULDER -- The main source of online weather training for hundreds of thousands of forecasters, emergency managers, and others in the United States and abroad is turning to donations from users in order to try to stay in service. The COMET Program, managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), is taking this unprecedented step in the face of a funding shortfall of nearly $2 million. The deficit reflects this year’s government sequestration as well as further federal budget cuts anticipated in fiscal year 2014. More than 275,000 meteorologists, pilots, firefighters, emergency managers, other professionals, and students rely on COMET's MetEd website ( The courses, which are offered for no charge, offer job-focused training that goes into far more detail than typical university classes on subjects such as marine winds and waves, aviation ceiling and visibility, forecasting for wildfires, and more. They help users better predict potential threats to society, including hurricanes and severe storms, aviation hazards, tsunamis, and emergency responses to hazardous releases. Rich Jeffries (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for nonprofit and media use.) Budget cuts have forced several of the government agencies that sponsor MetEd to reduce, delay, or eliminate funding for the program’s base expenses. The cuts are a last resort by agencies that continue to view MetEd as an important resource but are dealing with sequestration and a future of continuing budget cuts, says COMET director Rich Jeffries. “Meteorologists who provide critical prediction services for the nation's weather services and the U.S. military, as well as pilots and emergency managers, rely on MetEd to stay up to date on forecasting research and technology,” Jeffries says. “Without MetEd, the ability of these forecasters and other professionals to keep their skills current and provide needed predictions of potentially dangerous weather events would be seriously impaired.” Leading military officials say the classes are vital for their operations. In the U.S. Navy, for example, such specialized training is essential to meet the needs of a wide range of scenarios in violence-prone regions. “COMET modules are instrumental to meeting our mission," says Rear Admiral Brian Brown, commander of the U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. "They provide our sailors an additional layer of highly-focused training and education. We call them 'just in time' training. For example, when sailors deploy to the Middle East, they use COMET modules to learn forecasting techniques for dust storms.” COMET's online training modules cover a range of critical topics, from severe storms to tsunamis. A major cost savings MetEd has saved the U.S. government millions of dollars over the last few years by providing virtual training and online modules in lieu of traditional in-person classes, which involve considerable travel and housing expenses. In just one case, federal, state, and local users have saved millions of dollars through online access to an intermediate wildland fire behavior course that was officially certified in 2010. “With all the threats that extreme weather events pose to our nation, U.S. forecasters cannot afford to lose their edge as a result of inadequate training,” says UCAR president Thomas Bogdan. “MetEd is a remarkably economical way to provide high-quality training at no cost to users.” The service is also a powerful way to bolster the skills of forecasters in developing countries, where other sources of training may be sparse or absent. Improving meteorological expertise is critical as these nations seek to expand airports and make travel safer for visitors from other countries. Jeffries estimates the value of the entire MetEd website at more than $70 million, an investment that would be jeopardized if the system cannot be maintained. COMET has set an initial target of raising enough money—$400,000—to keep the current MetEd site operational through this fiscal year, if no additional modules are created. This translates to just less than $1.50 per MetEd user. “We think that $1.50 per user is an amazing bargain, considering the wealth of material that MetEd provides,” says Jeffries. Providing free and open access to users from all over the world has been a priority for COMET since it launched the MetEd website in 1997. With more than 480 modules online, MetEd offers more than 700 total hours of training, all available at no cost to users. In addition to meteorologists and other professionals, students in many disciplines at more than 1,600 universities worldwide use MetEd modules as a key part of their education in the geosciences. Among COMET’s major honors for MetEd are the American Geophysical Union’s Excellence in Geophysical Education Award (2006) and the 2009 Public Education Award from the National Weather Association. MetEd users and others interested in supporting the service can donate at the website. In addition to soliciting donations from users, COMET is seeking support from foundations and other potential sponsors. Private meteorologists said they are hopeful that the training will continue. "MetEd is by far the best way to learn to be a better forecaster," says Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist at WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Maryland. "Thanks to their modules, I can do a much better job alerting our viewers to major storms, protracted cold spells, and other potentially harmful weather events."


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