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NOAA researchers studying how cities influence approaching thunderstorms
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NOAA researchers studying how cities influence approaching thunderstorms

Contact: Keli Pirtle, 405-325-6933

Do you think your city has an effect on incoming storms? The NOAA National Severe Storms Lab (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., asked the question on social media, and received a flood of responses.

“Maury County, TN can split a super cell in half at the county line!” said one.

“Phoenix, AZ....definitely has a heat island. We used to have some awesome Monsoon storms, but lately these storms break apart before they hit our city,” said another responder.

“I live just west of Hartford, CT in the Farmington Valley. Many times thunderstorms roar through Litchfield County and then disperse as they make their way into the valley, weakening the storms.”


And it turns out it is not just a U.S. phenomenon.

“YES!!! I live in Bournemouth, England. The weather here seems to be different to much, if not all, of the country. We've got the Purbeck hills to the south west with Poole Harbour and Poole bay one side and the English channel the other. It’s like a 'mini micro climate' or mini high pressure that sits over the bay.”

NSSL’s Dave Stensrud is the NOAA principal investigator on a team of researchers from across the United States who will work to prove or disprove these urban legends. It will be the first systematic study on city size or shape and its influence on storm track, direction, and intensity. And, it will not only explore how changes in the land surface affect storms, but also explore the effects of air pollution.

The project will focus on the Great Plains from North Dakota to central Texas, where frequent severe weather events, relatively level terrain and isolated urban areas surrounded by farmland provide an ideal location. One-tenth of the urban population of the United States resides in this region, in cities like Wichita, Omaha, and Oklahoma City.

NASA space-borne sensors, National Weather Service Doppler radars, and archives of weather radar data will be used to study new storms and past storm events.

“This research will improve earth system modeling by identifying the key physical and chemical processes necessary to model interactions between convective storms and urban areas while adding to our understanding of how human activities alter the environment in unexpected ways,” said Stensrud.

The team includes experts on weather forecasting and modeling, radar meteorology, urban remote sensing, landscape architecture, atmospheric chemistry, statistical analysis, and computer modeling from NOAA, South Dakota State University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the University of Minnesota.

The project is sponsored through a $1.5M three-year NASA grant.

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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