When it comes to predicting severe weather such as thunderstorms and tornadoes, it’s all about data.
The more weather data researchers and forecasters have, and the more they understand the data they’ve collected, the better chance they have of predicting storms and warning the public about their imminence.
A project that aims to increase the understanding of what initiates thunderstorms and severe weather is currently underway in Alberta. The project, called UNSTABLE (UNderstanding Severe Thunderstorms and Alberta Boundary Layers Experiment), is being co-led by John Hanesiak of the Department of Environment and Geography and the Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS) at the University of Manitoba.
The project includes the use of the University of Manitoba’s Mobile Atmospheric Research System (MARS), a customized trailer outfitted with state-of-the-art atmospheric research equipment.
“The overall goal of UNSTABLE is to better understand thunderstorm initiation and help improve weather forecasting,” says Hanesiak.
To do that, the project’s teams, consisting of researchers from the University of Manitoba, the University of Calgary and Environment Canada, are examining the atmospheric boundary layer in the Alberta foothills, where summers storms occur with regular frequency.
Special measurements obtained through a network of fixed and mobile surface, upper-air, and airborne instruments are being used together with existing Environment Canada weather stations to better understand the processes in the thunderstorm genesis zone.
Although the project is region-specific, Hanesiak says the information learned from UNSTABLE will be valuable to Manitobans as well.
“It’s directly applicable. We have a lot of the same atmospheric and surface processes here in Manitoba,” he explains.
UNSTABLE is a three-week pilot project that is nearing completion. A full-scale UNSTABLE study is planned for the summer of 2011.
One of the goals of the project is to design conceptual models that can be used by weather forecasters for predicting storms and associated severe weather.