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Clark, Adam
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Clark, Adam

Predicting small-scale storms and making big advancements in weather forecasting

by Bonnie Myers, NOAA Research Office of Communications

Meteorologist, research scientist, amateur storm chaser, award winner, journal editor, mentor, and advisor—Adam Clark from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) never misses an opportunity to help advance the science behind severe weather prediction and forecasting.

Pursuing a career in meteorology was a no-brainer for Clark after growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, where severe weather came with the territory. 

Enduring hard conditions after severe storms was common for Clark as a kid.  His town was without drinking water for two weeks from The Great Flood of 1993.  “I started watching The Weather Channel when I was a kid and watched it constantly,” he said.  From then on, he wanted to learn the science behind weather prediction.

After receiving his PhD in Meteorology, Clark started working at NSSL in 2009 in Norman, Oklahoma—“the severe weather capitol of the world,” according to Clark.  Working at the National Weather Center alongside scientists and forecasters, he has had the opportunity to lead and participate in research projects related to operational weather forecasting as part of NSSL’s Forecast Research and Development Division.

NOAA"s Mauna Loa observatory, set high on the barren slopes of a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is ideally situated to sample air that has not been influenced by local pollution sources or vegetation. Credit: Susan Cobb, NOAA

The NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed—an annual forecasting experiment that is a collaborative effort between scientists and operational forecasters at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and NSSL— is Clark’s bread and butter.  In fact, he has been a lead planner and facilitator of this groundbreaking experiment since 2010, which he humbly admits was a leadership role he did not expect to acquire so early on in his career.

“This spring forecasting experiment is very useful to the public. We intentionally work very closely with forecasters from the SPC to make sure the research we are doing will actually help [the forecasters] make better forecasts,” he explained.

"This spring forecasting experiment is very useful to the public. We intentionally work very closely with forecasters from the SPC to make sure the research we are doing will actually help [the forecasters] make better forecasts."

Clark spends the majority of his time in the lab working with complex computer models and data to ensure forecasters have the best tools available to make accurate severe weather forecasts.  His research on individual, small-scale storm prediction has helped forecasters provide severe weather outlooks to the public one to three days in advance on individual storms in their area.  Ultimately, this research has helped increase public awareness to severe weather events like tornadoes and thunderstorms.

“Ten years ago these types of models weren't being used because computers were not fast enough. Forecasters had to deduce where storms may occur using larger scale aspects of the forecast environment.  Models can now more directly forecast storms and their associated hazards,” he said. 

Although Clark’s research has national benefits to public safety, he also tries to focus on impacts he can make right at home and in his scientific community by mentoring college students and serving as editor for scientific journals.

According to Clark, the students he mentors and advises at the University of Oklahoma have taught him a thing or two about severe weather prediction and especially dry lines—an important factor in storm development.  Oftentimes, he professed, when he speaks with his students on their research he thinks “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

Mentoring has proven to be a very rewarding aspect of his job at NOAA, but Clark’s heart and soul remain in operational research that benefits forecasters and, ultimately, the public. 

In the end, it comes down to “better forecasts help the public prepare for severe weather,” which is exactly what Clark works towards improving every day.

Dr. Adam Clark received his PhD in Meteorology from Iowa State University in 2009. He started at NSSL as a National Research Council Post-doctoral Research Associate with Dr. David Stensrud. He is now a research meteorologist for NOAA’s NSSL and Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is one of the recipients of the prestigious 2013 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Check out Clark discuss this award in the video below. More information available on the NSSL News page. 

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