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7. Storms

What Causes Thunderstorms and Tornadoes?

2016-03-11. Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change. Authors:  Committee on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution; Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate; Division on Earth and Life Studies; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

2014-03-27. Two interesting resources have been added to  chapter 7 of Energy Flow (http://www.globalsystemsscience.org/studentbooks/ef/ch7): (1) announcement from NASA Release 14-086 (http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/march/first-images-available-from-nasa-jaxa-global-rain-and-snowfall-satellite/#.UzHYa15GLHQ) of first images captured by the newest Earth-observing satellite, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory including 3D representation of the structure of a storm; and (2) an interactive Earth display that allows you to select atmospheric properties - http://earth.nullschool.net/ - See the end of GSS Energy Flow chapter 7 (http://www.globalsystemsscience.org/studentbooks/ef/ch7)

2013-11-18. Midwest Tornadoes: Severe Storms Sweep Across 12 States, Killing 6. Excerpt:  ...Early Monday, Washington [IL] Mayor Gary Manier estimated that from 250 to 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed in the storm and that it wasn't clear when residents would be allowed to return. ...The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York. ...Illinois was the hardest struck with at least six people killed and dozens more injured. ...Although about 80 reports of tornadoes had come in as of Sunday night, the National Weather Service's Bunting said the actual number will likely be in the 30 to 40 range...because the same tornado often gets reported multiple times. Weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said such weather is rare this late in the year, but that strong winds coupled with temperatures in the 60s and 70s spawned Sunday's storms.... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/midwest-tornadoes_n_4294412.html. David Mercer and Don Babwin, Huffington Post.

2013-11-08. Study Finds Climate Link to 'Atmospheric River' Storms.  Excerpt:   new NASA-led study of "atmospheric river" storms from the Pacific Ocean may help scientists better predict major winter snowfalls that hit West Coast mountains and lead to heavy spring runoff and sometimes flooding. Atmospheric rivers -- short-lived wind tunnels that carry water vapor from tropical oceans to mid-latitude land areas -- are prolific producers of rain and snow on California's Sierra Nevada mountains. ...An atmospheric river is a narrow stream of wind, about a mile high and sometimes of hurricane strength. Crossing the warm tropical Pacific in a few days, it becomes laden with water vapor. A moderate-sized atmospheric river carries as much water as the Mississippi River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico in an average week. When the river comes ashore and stalls over higher terrain, the water falls as snow or rain. "Atmospheric rivers are the bridge between climate and West Coast snow," said [Bin Guan of the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineerin]. "If scientists can predict these atmospheric patterns with reasonable lead times, we'll have a better understanding of water availability and flooding in the region." The benefit of improving flood prediction alone would be significant. A single California atmospheric-river storm in 1999 caused 15 deaths and $570 million in damage. Guan's team used data from the JPL-developed Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite,  ...http://airs.jpl.nasa.gov....  http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/november/study-finds-climate-link-to-atmospheric-river-storms/. NASA RELEASE 13-329.

2013-09-11.  NASA Launches Drones from Virginia to Study Storms.   Excerpt: ATLANTIC, Va. -- NASA scientists are using former military surveillance drones to help them understand more about how tropical storms intensify, which they say could ultimately save lives by improving forecast models that predict a hurricane's strength. The unmanned Global Hawk aircraft were designed to perform high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the Air Force. ..."The biggest scientific question we're trying to attack is why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly and why do others not intensify at all?  ...There are two questions on which NASA scientists primarily want the drone research to focus. One is what role thunderstorms within a hurricane play in its intensification. Researchers aren't sure if the thunderstorms are a driver of storm intensity or a symptom of it. The other is what role the Saharan Air Layer plays in the tropical storm development. The Saharan Air Layer is a dry, hot, dusty layer of air from Africa. Scientists have been at odds with each other over whether it helps hurricanes strengthen or does the opposite.... http://www.weather.com/news/science/space/nasa-launches-drones-study-storms-20130911. Brock Vergakis, The Weather Channel.

2013-06-06.   NASA Flights Target How Pollution, Storms and Climate Mix.   Excerpt: ...NASA aircraft will take to the skies over the southern United States this summer to investigate how air pollution and natural emissions, which are pushed high into the atmosphere by large storms, affect atmospheric composition and climate. ...More than 250 scientists, engineers, and flight personnel are participating in the Studies of Emissions, Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys (SEAC4RS) campaign. ....Aircraft and sensors will probe the atmosphere from top to bottom at the critical time of year when weather systems are strong enough and regional air pollution and natural emissions are prolific enough to pump gases and particles high into the atmosphere. The result is potentially global consequences for Earth's atmosphere and climate. "In summertime across the United States, emissions from large seasonal fires, metropolitan areas, and vegetation are moved upward by thunderstorms and the North American Monsoon," Toon said. "When these chemicals get into the stratosphere they can affect the whole Earth. They also may influence how thunderstorms behave. With SEAC4RS we hope to better understand how all these things interact." SEAC4RS will provide new insights into the effects of the gases and tiny aerosol particles in the atmosphere. The mission is targeting two major regional sources of summertime emissions: intense smoke from forest fires in the U.S. West and natural emissions of isoprene, a carbon compound, from forests in the Southeast. Forest fire smoke can change the properties of clouds. The particles in the smoke can reflect and absorb incoming solar energy, potentially producing a net cooling at the ground and a warming of the atmosphere. The addition of large amounts of chemicals, such as isoprene, can alter the chemical balance of the atmosphere. Some of these chemicals can damage Earth's protective ozone layer. For more information on the mission, visit: http://espo.nasa.gov/missions/seac4rs  ....http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2013/jun/HQ_13-167_SEAC4RS_Campaign.html. NASA Release 13-167.

2012 March. Predicting and managing extreme weather events.
by Jane Lubchenco and Thomas R. Karl. Physics Today, p. 31. Earth’s climate is warming, and destructive weather is growing more prevalent. Coping with the changes will require collaborative science, forward-thinking policy, and an informed public.

2011 April 25. Tornado Season Intensifies, Without Clear Scientific Consensus on Why. By A.G. Sulzberger, The New York Times.
Excerpt: All the warning sirens echoing across the Great Plains, Midwest and Southeast this month leave little doubt that the tornado season — which has plowed a trail of destruction through communities from Oklahoma to Wisconsin to Georgia — is off to an unusually busy start…Now, as the country braces for several more days of potentially violent weather, meteorologists say the number of April tornadoes is on track to top the current record...
It remains unclear, partly because of the lack of historical data and partly because of their unpredictable nature, whether they will increase in number or strength or geographic range.

2008 Sep 15. Photos from hurricane Ike.

2008 Apr 15. Measuring a Hurricane by Sound Underwater. By HENRY FOUNTAIN, NY Times. Excerpt: There are a couple of ways to forecast the destructive potential of a hurricane so that people in harm's way can take adequate precautions. Satellite images of cloud patterns can be analyzed to estimate peak wind speeds, but the estimates are often way off the mark. Specialized aircraft can fly into a storm to measure the winds directly, but the flights are costly. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology propose a third way: listening to a storm underwater.
In a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, Nicholas C. Makris and a former graduate student, Joshua D. Wilson, report a strong correlation between the intensity of sound recorded by an undersea microphone in the mid-Atlantic and the wind power of a hurricane that passed over it. They say that such microphones, known as hydrophones, could be a safe and relatively inexpensive means of estimating hurricane force....

2007 November 5. To show how insolation is affected by latitude. From: Stephen J. Edberg
... to show how insolation is affected by latitude: Take a pair of thermometers, each taped to some cardboard, outside on a sunny day. Prop one up so that the cardboard's plane is normal to the direction of the Sun. Lay the other one on the ground. Give them a chance to equalize: the propped thermometer will be much warmer than the one on the ground.
Caveats: This demonstration is much more effective on cold sunny days than on warm sunny days. It is better done early or late in the day when the Sun is closer to the horizon, not around noon.
You can actually do this indoors on a rainy day if you use a good spotlight or projector, equidistant from the two thermometer bulbs. If you have some small thermometers you can tape them to different latitudes on a globe and try the experiment with a spotlight, projector, or desk lamp. (Make sure you use a tungsten bulb, not fluorescent or LED.)

2007 May 29. Will Warming Lead to a Rise in Hurricanes? By CORNELIA DEAN. NY Times. Excerpt: When people worry about the effects of global warming, they worry more about hurricanes than anything else. In surveys, almost three-quarters of Americans say there will be more and stronger hurricanes in a warming world. By contrast, fewer than one-quarter worry about increased coastal flooding. ...Researchers hope to better predict storms like Katrina.... There is no doubt that as the world warms, seas will rise, increasing the flood risk, simply because warmer water occupies more space. (And if the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets melt, the rise will be far greater.) It seems similarly logical that as the world warms, hurricanes will be more frequent or more powerful or both. After all, they draw their strength from warm ocean waters. But while many scientists hold this view, there is far less consensus, in part because of new findings on other factors that may work against stronger, more frequent storms. "Global warming is as real as it gets," Richard A. Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, .... But as for its link to hurricanes, Mr. Anthes said, "I don't think it's been proved conclusively." ...One question meteorologists and climate experts can answer quickly is an obvious one: What happened to the hurricane season of 2006? Viewed from the perspective of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, it was a bust (or a boon). Not a single hurricane struck the United States. But last year a persistent Bermuda high, sitting unusually far out in the Atlantic, and air currents from an unexpected and quick-forming El Niño system ... diminished the storms' potential to strike the United States. ...even though there were only slightly fewer named storms than average (9 instead of 11), about as many became hurricanes as on average (5 instead of 6) and, as in an ordinary year, 2 hurricanes with winds of more than 111 miles per hour, the standard for Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
...53 percent of Americans live within 50 miles of a coast....

2006 December 11. NASA AIRCRAFT CAPTURES WINDY DETAILS IN HURRICANE'S UPS AND DOWNS. NASA Earth Observatory News. - In 2005, scientists using NASA aircraft measured the internal structure of Hurricane Dennis, giving clues about the evolution of a hurricane's warm inner core and other factors related to their formation.

2006 September 27. NASA LAUNCHES HURRICANE DATA PORTAL FOR SCIENTISTS, EDUCATORS, AND APPLICATION USERS - A new hurricane web portal is designed for viewing and studying hurricanes with a variety of measurements from satellite-based NASA instruments. NASA Earth Observatory.

2006 September 26. NASA TECHNOLOGY CAPTURES MASSIVE HURRICANE WAVES. NASA research is helping to increase knowledge about the behavior of hurricane waves that pose a serious threat to mariners and coastal communities. NASA Earth Observatory.

2006 September 19. Are humans causing stronger hurricanes?Excerpt: a continuing controversy ... Are humans causing stronger hurricanes? A study released on September 11, 2006 ruled out "natural causes" as the primary reason why ocean waters have warmed where hurricanes form over the last 100 years. Tom Wigley, a climate scientist and study co-author, told Earth & Sky that "the changes cannot be caused by natural fluctuations, which just leaves human factors as the dominant cause." Wigley said those human factors include greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

2006 September. The Gathering Storm. Catalyst Magazine, Union of Concerned Scientists. By Brenda Ekwurzel. Excerpt: By now, everyone has heard of the possible relationship between hurricanes and global warming. What does the science really tell us and what can we do about it? Rapid population growth in coastal regions has placed many more people and structures in the path of storms, increasing the potential for casualties, property damage, and financial hardship when these storms make landfall. And as reported by the media in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, global warming may be making matters worse. Recent scientific evidence suggests a link between the destructive power (or intensity) of hurricanes and higher ocean temperatures driven in large part by our changing climate.
...Scientists have recently looked at potential correlations between ocean temperatures and storm trends worldwide over the past several decades. One study, which combined each storm's duration and maximum wind speed, found that the destructive power of storms has increased around 70 percent in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over the last 30 years. Another study revealed that the percentage of hurricanes classified as Category 4 or 5 (the most intense storms) worldwide has increased over the same period, correlating with the concurrent rise in sea surface temperatures in the regions where storms typically originate ....
In a third independent approach, researchers analyzed surface wind and temperature records between 1958 and 2001 and confirmed the marked increase in storm intensity around the world. Still more studies are continuing to test the connection between storm intensity and warmer temperatures even as insurance agencies are revising their risk analysis for coastal regions....

2006 September. "Large human influence" found in hurricane-breeding waters, say scientists. Earth & Sky Blog.

2005

23 June 2005. RELEASE: 05-159
NASA RESEARCHERS STUDYING TROPICAL CYCLONES
NASA hurricane researchers are deploying to Costa Rica next month to investigate the birthplace of eastern Pacific tropical cyclones. They will be searching for clues that could lead to a greater understanding and better predictability of one of the world's most significant weather events -the hurricane...As scientists and coastal residents brace for another potentially challenging hurricane season, NASA is launching the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) mission. TCSP is a month-long research effort primarily intended to document "cyclogenesis," the birth of tropical storms, hurricanes and related phenomena...Researchers will monitor oceanic thunderstorms to study why some systems develop into tropical cyclones and some do not. Researchers feel the data is vital to understanding how such weather systems evolve and travel. The data also could support development of a more accurate and timely warning system to help safeguard property and lives..."This experiment is significant for two reasons," said Robbie Hood, an atmospheric scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. She is one of three lead scientists for the project in Costa Rica. "We will have an opportunity to take a closer look at the factors contributing to the initiation and intensification of tropical cyclones which are still somewhat mysterious processes for researchers and operational forecasters. We will also be examining what are the best combinations of satellite and aircraft technologies to improve how hurricanes are monitored and predicted," she said.

11 January 2005. NASA RELEASE: 05-015. Saharan Dust Affects Thunderstorm Behavior in Florida. Scientists using NASA satellite data have discovered tiny particles of dust blowing across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert can affect Florida thunderstorms. Dust affects the size of the top or "anvil" of a thunderstorm, the strength and number of updrafts of warm winds. It also affects the strength of convective (heat generated) thunderstorms by influencing the amount of rain that builds up and falls. ... The researchers found when saharan dust is in the air, the anvils produced by Florida's convective thunderstorms tend to be a little smaller in area, but better organized and thicker. This affects the amount of incoming sunlight and warmth reaching the ground, potentially affecting long-term climate. If occurring over time, more sunlight and warmer temperatures would mean a warmer climate. The researchers also noticed the updrafts of warm moist air, which build into thunderstorms were stronger, and there were more updrafts produced in the presence of the dust.... Saharan dust can act as cloud condensation nuclei, giant cloud condensation nuclei and ice nuclei. Van den Heever ran two types of computer model simulations, one that included saharan dust and another without the desert dust. She then compared the results and found something unusual. The increased concentrations of cloud condensation nuclei due to the dust decreased the amount of rainfall at the Earth's surface. ...For more information and images about this research on the Web, visit Looking At Earth from NASA.


2004

21 June 2004. NASA RESEARCH HELPS HIGHLIGHT LIGHTNING SAFETY AWARENESS WEEK -- NASA will mark National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 20-26, through unique contributions its lightning research makes to climate studies, and severe storm detection and prediction. NASA research is striving to improve our understanding of lightning and its role in weather and climate.

14 January 2004. NASA RELEASE : 04-017. A 'Hot Tower' Above The Eye Can Make Hurricanes Stronger -- They are called hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the West Pacific, and tropical cyclones worldwide; but wherever these storms roam, the forces that determine their severity now are a little less mysterious. NASA scientists, using data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, have found "hot tower" clouds are associated with tropical cyclone intensification. ... a "hot tower" [is] a rain cloud that reaches at least to the top of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere. It extends approximately nine miles (14.5 km) high in the tropics. These towers are called "hot" because they rise to such altitude due to the large amount of latent heat. ... A particularly tall hot tower rose above Hurricane Bonnie in August 1998, as the storm intensified a few days before striking North Carolina... more than $1 billion damage and three deaths.... Kelley said, "The motivation for this new research is that it is not enough to predict the birth of a tropical cyclone. We also want to improve our ability to predict the intensity of the storm and the damage it would cause if it struck the coast."


2003

17 December 2003. NASA STUDIES SHOW GLOBAL WARMING IS LIKELY TO DRIVE BIG CHANGES IN CALIFORNIA'S COASTAL WATERS -- Global warming could have profound effects on the intensity and seasonal timing of wind-driven upwelling of deep ocean water along the California coast, impacting many coastal ecosystems, according to recent studies by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

30 September 2003. Observations of a "weekend effect" in diurnal temperature range, Piers M. de F. Forster and Susan Solomon , National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, CO 80305; and Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AH, United Kingdom. Using surface measurements of maximum and minimum temperatures from the Global Daily Climatological Network data set, we find evidence of a weekly cycle in diurnal temperature range (DTR) for many stations in the United States, Mexico, Japan, and China....We conclude that the weekend effect is a real short time scale and large spatial scale geophysical phenomenon, which is necessarily human in origin. We thus provide strong evidence of an anthropogenic link to DTR, an important climate indicator. Several possible anthropogenic mechanisms are discussed; we speculate that aerosol-cloud interactions are the most likely cause of this weekend effect, but we do not rule out others. PNAS | vol. 100 | no. 20 | 11225-11230.

18 September 2003. Hurricane Isabel's landfall. If you happened to be in North Carolina, the sight of advancing Hurricane Isabel was surely unwelcome. From space, though, it was a thing of beauty. High above Earth, NASA satellites took some remarkable pictures of Hurricane Isabel's landfall. See also: Recipe for a Hurricane -- NASA satellites improve hurricane forecasts using space-based observations, data assimilation, and computer climate modeling.

3 June 2003. Lightning Spies. In late April 2002, a cold front pushed eastward across the midwestern United States. Ahead of the cold front, a powerful thunderstorm formed over Maryland, spawning what was perhaps the state’s worst tornado. With winds estimated at over 260 miles per hour, the tornado touched down and traveled a path of destruction for 24 miles (39 kilometers), claiming several lives and injuring more than 100 people. The thunderstorm associated with this tornado persisted from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, causing an estimated $120 million in damages.


2001

18 October 2001. WEATHER FORECASTERS MAY LOOK SKY-HIGH FOR ANSWERS -- These days, weather forecasters are lucky if they can accurately predict the weather a week into the future. But a new study, funded in part by NASA, says shifting wind patterns inthe stratosphere during the winter may help forecasters predict weather on the surface two months ahead of time, because they have an affect on where storms track in the northern hemisphere.


2000

March 2000. Flood in Mozambique [1.1MB PDF NASA Lithograph] Floods are one of the most common and widespread of all natural disasters. These images from the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) onboard the Landsat 7 satellite, illustrate the severity of the floods experienced in Mozambique, Africa in March 2000.


1998

August 1998. Hurricane Bonnie [1.2MB PDF NASA Lithograph] Few things in nature can compare to the destructive force of a hurricane. Called the greatest storm on Earth, a hurricane is capable of destroying coastal areas with sustained winds in excess of 155 mph, intense rainfall and a storm surge.


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