Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Anniversary of the Day Wichita Avoided Catastrophe

Three years ago at this time (2:45pm), I was concluding -- based on my weather analysis -- that the Wichita area was at high risk of a tornado.

Kathleen, my meteorologist friend Cat Taylor, and I were charging computers and otherwise preparing to go on a storm chase to intercept the storm(s) to help get the word out. Two days before (May 19 was a Sunday), I had confirmed the Wichita NWS was monitoring Twitter and #kswx for live storm reports.

My goals when chasing are to
  • Help get the word out so warnings can be issued,
  • Enjoy watching nature at work, 
  • Get fresh materials for my tornado safety seminars, 
  • Test the latest techniques we use at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions. More on that below. 
If you'd like to see all of the photos, the radar, etc., I have a complete report on that storm chase, here. Below is a photo of the rain-wrapped tornado south of what is now Wichita's Eisenhower National Airport.
The visibility in this photo is poor because the tornado was becoming rain-wrapped. That is one of the reasons the Joplin tornado was so deadly -- literally, no one could see it coming.

Fortunately, Mother Nature smiled on Wichita and the tornado dissipated right before it reached the city limits. The storm still did quite a bit of damage. Our home had two broken windows and quite a bit of other damage from hail and very high winds.

At the same time as this 2013 tornado occurred, those of us at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions (AES) were just starting to look into what meteorologists call "mesoscale meteorological modeling." This differs from other weather forecasting models in that it can handle thunderstorms and other very small weather phenomena. Below is an example from Monday of this week.
On the left are the model runs from 10am (top) and 1pm (bottom). At upper right is a map of the storm reports. Red dots = tornadoes. Green = large hail. Blue = damaging winds. Finally, for comparison, is the severe thunderstorm watch. The modeling usually provides a more precise forecast than current severe weather forecasts.

We already use this guidance in AccuWeather's forecasts, Storm Potential Notices and storm warnings. Additional products for our clients are in currently in development.

Below, is an example of the benefit our clients are receiving from this new tool.
The map above, via the lightning symbols, shows the area where tornadoes and severe thunderstorms were forecast by AccuWeather the afternoon and evening of May 9, 2016.

Below, is the tornado forecast from a governmental source issued the same time of day on the 9th.
The AccuWeather forecast captures more of the tornadoes, especially in Nebraska and western Iowa than the conventional forecast. Keep in mind that AES serves enterprise clients rather than the general public. AES forecasts are ideal for hospitals, sports venues, and others that need more advance notice than the public-at-large.

Like everything else in weather science, it is not perfect. We add even more value because our expert meteorologists know the situations where it is must likely to work well and when it is less likely to work.

While I cannot speak for other meteorologists, I'm pleasantly amazed by how fast we have made progress in this endeavor. If you are a business that would like to speak to our team about how you can use this tool to make better decisions, just contact:  sales@accuweather.com  .

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