This paper reviews the status of forecasting convective precipitation for time periods less than a few hours (nowcasting). Techniques for nowcasting thunderstorm location were developed in the 1960s and 1970s by extrapolating radar echoes. The accuracy of these forecasts generally decreases very rapidly during the first 30 min because of the very short lifetime of individual convective cells. Fortunately more organized features like squall lines and supercells can be successfully extrapolated for longer time periods. Physical processes that dictate the initiation and dissipation of convective storms are not necessarily observable in the past history of a particular echo development; rather, they are often controlled by boundary layer convergence features, environmental vertical wind shear, and buoyancy. Thus, successful forecasts of storm initiation depend on accurate specification of the initial thermodynamic and kinematic fields with particular attention to convergence lines. For these reasons the ability to improve on simple extrapolation techniques had stagnated until the present national observational network modernization program. The ability to observe small-scale boundary layer convergence lines is now possible with operational Doppler radars and satellite imagery. In addition, it has been demonstrated that high-resolution wind retrievals can be obtained from single Doppler radar. Two methods are presently under development for using these modern datasets to forecast thunderstorm evolution: knowledge-based expert systems and numerical forecasting models that are initialized with radar data. Both these methods are very promising and progressing rapidly. Operational tests of expert systems are presently taking place in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

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Footnotes

*The National Center for Atmospheric Research is partially sponsored by the National Science Foundation.