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Charles M. Kuster, Pamela L. Heinselman, and Marcus Austin

Abstract

On 31 May 2013, a supercell produced a tornado rated as 3 on the enhanced Fujita scale (EF3) near El Reno, Oklahoma, which was sampled by the S-band phased-array radar (PAR) at the National Weather Radar Testbed in Norman, Oklahoma. Collaboration with the forecaster who issued tornado warnings for the El Reno supercell during real-time operations focused the analysis on critical radar signatures frequently assessed during warning operations. The wealth of real-world experience provided by the forecaster, along with the quantitative analysis, highlighted differences between rapid-scan PAR data and the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler located near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (KTLX), within the context of forecast challenges faced on 31 May 2013. The comparison revealed that the 70-s PAR data proved most advantageous to the forecaster’s situational awareness in instances of rapid storm organization, sudden mesocyclone intensification, and abrupt, short-term changes in tornado motion. Situations where PAR data were most advantageous in the depiction of storm-scale processes included 1) rapid variations in mesocyclone intensity and associated changes in inflow magnitude; 2) imminent radar-indicated development of the short-lived (EF0) Calumet, Oklahoma, and long-lived (EF3) El Reno tornadoes; and 3) precise location and motion of the tornado circulation. As a result, it is surmised that rapid-scan volumetric radar data in cases like this would augment a forecaster’s ability to observe rapidly evolving storm features and deliver timely, life-saving information to the general public.

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Katie A. Wilson, Pamela L. Heinselman, and Charles M. Kuster

Abstract

Thirty National Weather Service forecasters worked with 1-, 2-, and 5-min phased-array radar (PAR) volumetric updates for a variety of weather events during the 2015 Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment. Exposure to each of these temporal resolutions during simulated warning operations meant that these forecasters could provide valuable feedback on how rapidly updating PAR data impacted their warning decision processes. To capture this feedback, forecasters participated in one of six focus groups. A series of open-ended questions guided focus group discussions, and forecasters were encouraged to share their experiences and opinions from the experiment. Transcriptions of focus group discussions were thematically analyzed, and themes belonging to one of two groups were identified: 1) forecasters’ use of rapidly updating PAR data during the experiment and 2) how forecasters envision rapidly updating PAR data being integrated into warning operations. Findings from this thematic analysis are presented in this paper, and to illustrate these findings from the forecasters’ perspectives, dialogue that captures the essence of their discussions is shared. The identified themes provide motivation to integrate rapidly updating radar data into warning operations and highlight important factors that need to be addressed for the successful integration of these data.

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Charles M. Kuster, Pamela L. Heinselman, and Terry J. Schuur

Abstract

On 14 June 2011, an intense multicell thunderstorm produced one nonsevere and three severe downbursts within 35 km of the rapid-update, S-band phased array radar (PAR) at the National Weather Radar Testbed in Norman, Oklahoma, and the nearby polarimetric research Weather Surveillance Radar 1988-Doppler (KOUN). Data collected from these radars provided the opportunity to conduct a quantitative analysis of downburst precursor signature evolution depicted by 1-min PAR data and the associated evolution of differential reflectivity Z DR depicted by 5-min KOUN data. Precursors analyzed included descent of the reflectivity core, evolution of the magnitude and size of midlevel convergence (i.e., number of bins), and descending “troughs” of Z DR. The four downbursts exhibited midlevel convergence that rapidly increased to peak magnitude as the reflectivity core (65-dBZ isosurface) bottom and top descended. The Z DR troughs seen in the 5-min KOUN data appeared to descend along with the core bottom. Midlevel convergence size increased to a peak value and decreased as the reflectivity core descended in the three severe downbursts. In contrast, midlevel convergence size exhibited little change in the nonsevere downburst. The time scale of trends seen in the PAR data was 11 min or less and happened several minutes prior to each downburst’s maximum intensity. These results point to the importance of 1-min volumetric data in effectively resolving the evolution of downburst precursors, which could be beneficial to forecast operations.

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Yixin Wen, Terry Schuur, Humberto Vergara, and Charles Kuster

Abstract

Quantitative precipitation estimates (QPE) at high spatiotemporal resolution are essential for flash flood forecasting, especially in urban environments and headwater areas. An accurate quantification of precipitation is directly related to the temporal and spatial sampling of the precipitation system. The advent of phased array radar (PAR) technology, a potential next-generation weather radar, can provide updates that are at least 4-5 times faster than the conventional WSR-88D scanning rate. In this study, data collected by the KOUN WSR-88D radar with ~1 minute temporal resolution is used as an approximation of data that a future PAR system could provide to force the Ensemble Framework for Flash Flood Forecasting (EF5) hydrologic model. To assess the effect of errors resulting from temporal and spatial sampling of precipitation on flash flood warnings, KOUN precipitation data (1-km/1-min) is used to generate precipitation products at other spatial/temporal resolutions commonly used in hydrologic models, such as those provided by conventional WSR-88D radar (1-km/5-min), spaced-based observations (10-km/30-min), and hourly rainfall products (1-km/60-min). The effect of precipitation sampling errors on flash flood warnings are then examined and quantified by using discharge simulated from KOUN (1-km/1-min) as truth to assess simulations conducted using other generated coarser spatial/temporal resolutions of other precipitation products. Our results show that: 1) observations with coarse spatial and temporal sampling can cause large errors in quantification of the amount, intensity, and distribution of precipitation, 2) time series of precipitation products show that QPE peak values decrease as the temporal resolution gets coarser, and 3) the effect of precipitation sampling error on flash flood forecasting is large in headwater areas and decrease quickly as drainage area increases.

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Jeffrey C. Snyder, Howard B. Bluestein, Zachary B. Wienhoff, Charles M. Kuster, and Dylan W. Reif

Abstract

Tornadic supercells moved across parts of Oklahoma on the afternoon and evening of 9 May 2016. One such supercell, while producing a long-lived tornado, was observed by nearby WSR-88D radars to contain a strong anticyclonic velocity couplet on the lowest elevation angle. This couplet was located in a very atypical position relative to the ongoing cyclonic tornado and to the supercell’s updraft. A storm survey team identified damage near where this couplet occurred, and, in the absence of evidence refuting otherwise, the damage was thought to have been produced by an anticyclonic tornado. However, such a tornado was not seen in near-ground, high-resolution radar data from a much closer, rapid-scan, mobile radar. Rather, an elongated velocity couplet was observed only at higher elevation angles at altitudes similar to those at which the WSR-88D radars observed the strong couplet. This paper examines observations from two WSR-88D radars and a mobile radar from which it is argued that the anticyclonic couplet (and a similar one ~10 min later) were actually quasi-horizontal vortices centered ~1–1.5 km AGL. The benefits of having data from a radar much closer to the convective storm being sampled (e.g., better spatial resolution and near-ground data coverage) and providing more rapid volume updates are readily apparent. An analysis of these additional radar data provides strong, but not irrefutable, evidence that the anticyclonic tornado that may be inferred from WSR-88D data did not exist; consequently, upon discussions with the National Weather Service, it was not included in Storm Data.

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Charles M. Kuster, Terry J. Schuur, T. Todd Lindley, and Jeffrey C. Snyder

ABSTRACT

Research has shown that dual-polarization (dual-pol) data currently available to National Weather Service forecasters could provide important information about changes in a storm’s structure and intensity. Despite these new data being used gradually by forecasters more over time, they are still not used extensively to inform warning decisions because it is unclear how to apply dual-pol radar data to specific warning decisions. To address this knowledge gap, rapid-update (i.e., volumetric update time of 2.3 min or less) radar data of 45 storms in Oklahoma are used to examine one dual-pol signature, known as the differential reflectivity (Z DR) column, to relate this signature to warning decisions. Base data (i.e., Z DR, reflectivity, velocity) are used to relate Z DR columns to storm intensity, radar signatures such as upper-level reflectivity cores, and scientific conceptual models used by forecasters during the warning decision process. Analysis shows that 1) differences exist between the Z DR columns of severe and nonsevere storms, 2) Z DR columns develop and evolve prior to upper-level reflectivity cores, 3) rapid-update radar data provide a more complete picture of Z DR column evolution than traditional-update radar data (i.e., volumetric update time of about 5 min), and 4) Z DR columns provide a clearer and earlier indication of changes in updraft strength compared to reflectivity signatures. These findings suggest that Z DR columns can be used to inform warning decisions, increase warning confidence, and potentially increase warning lead time especially when they are integrated into existing conceptual models about a storm’s updraft and intensity.

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Katie A. Wilson, Pamela L. Heinselman, Charles M. Kuster, Darrel M. Kingfield, and Ziho Kang

Abstract

Impacts of radar update time on forecasters’ warning decision processes were analyzed in the 2015 Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment. Thirty National Weather Service forecasters worked nine archived phased-array radar (PAR) cases in simulated real time. These cases presented nonsevere, severe hail and/or wind, and tornadic events. Forecasters worked each type of event with approximately 5-min (quarter speed), 2-min (half speed), and 1-min (full speed) PAR updates. Warning performance was analyzed with respect to lead time and verification. Combining all cases, forecasters’ median warning lead times when using full-, half-, and quarter-speed PAR updates were 17, 14.5, and 13.6 min, respectively. The use of faster PAR updates also resulted in higher probability of detection and lower false alarm ratio scores. Radar update speed did not impact warning duration or size. Analysis of forecaster performance on a case-by-case basis showed that the impact of PAR update speed varied depending on the situation. This impact was most noticeable during the tornadic cases, where radar update speed positively impacted tornado warning lead time during two supercell events, but not for a short-lived tornado occurring within a bowing line segment. Forecasters’ improved ability to correctly discriminate the severe weather threat during a nontornadic supercell event with faster PAR updates was also demonstrated. Forecasters provided subjective assessments of their cognitive workload in all nine cases. On average, forecasters were not cognitively overloaded, but some participants did experience higher levels of cognitive workload at times. A qualitative explanation of these particular instances is provided.

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Charles M. Kuster, Pamela L. Heinselman, Jeffrey C. Snyder, Katie A. Wilson, Douglas A. Speheger, and James E. Hocker

Abstract

Many public safety officials (e.g., emergency managers and first responders) use weather-radar data to inform many life-saving decisions, such as sounding outdoor warning sirens and directing storm spotters. Therefore, to include this important user group in ongoing radar applications research, a knowledge coproduction framework is used to interact with, learn from, and provide information to public safety officials. From these interactions, it became clear that radar-based products that estimate a tornado’s location, intensity, or both could be valuable to public safety officials. Therefore, a survey was conducted and a focus group formed to 1) collect feedback on several of these products currently under development, 2) identify potential decisions that could be made with these products, and 3) examine the impact of radar update time on product usefulness. An analysis of the survey and focus group responses revealed that public safety officials preferred simple interactive products provided to them using multiple communication methods. Once received, any product that could clearly communicate where a tornado may have occurred would likely help public safety officials focus search and rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of a tornado. Additionally, public safety officials preferred products created using rapid-update data (1–2-min volumetric updates) over conventional-update data (4–5-min volumetric updates) because it provided them with more complete information.

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Bryan J. Putnam, Youngsun Jung, Nusrat Yussouf, Derek Stratman, Timothy A. Supinie, Ming Xue, Charles Kuster, and Jonathan Labriola

Abstract

Assimilation of dual-polarization (dual-pol) observations provides more accurate storm-scale analyses to initialize forecasts of severe convective thunderstorms. This study investigates the impact assimilating experimental sector-scan dual-pol observations has on storm-scale ensemble forecasts and how this impact changes over different data assimilation (DA) windows using the ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF). Ensemble forecasts are initialized after 30, 45, and 60 minutes of DA for two sets of experiments that assimilate either reflectivity and radial velocity only (EXPZ) or reflectivity and radial velocity plus differential reflectivity (EXPZZDR). This study uses the 31 May 2013 Oklahoma event which included multiple storms that produced tornadoes and severe hail, with focus placed on two storms that impacted El Reno and Stillwater during the event.

The earliest initialized forecast of EXPZZDR better predicts the evolution of the El Reno storm than EXPZ, but the two sets of experiments become similar at subsequent forecast times. However, the later EXPZZDR forecasts of the Stillwater storm, which organized towards the end of the DA window, produce improved results compared to EXPZ, in which the storm is less intense and weakens. Evaluation of forecast products for supercell mesocyclones (updraft helicity [UH]) and hail show similar results with earlier EXPZZDR forecasts better predicting the UH swaths of the El Reno storm and later forecasts producing improved UH and hail swaths for the Stillwater storm. The results indicate that the assimilation of ZDR over fewer DA cycles can produce improved forecasts when DA windows sufficiently cover storms during their initial development and organization.

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Charles M. Kuster, Barry R. Bowers, Jacob T. Carlin, Terry J. Schuur, Jeff W. Brogden, Robert Toomey, and Andy Dean

Abstract

Decades of research has investigated processes that contribute to downburst development, as well as identified precursor radar signatures that can accompany these events. These advancements have increased downburst predictability, but downbursts still pose a significant forecast challenge, especially in low-shear environments that produce short-lived single and multicell thunderstorms. Additional information provided by dual-polarization radar data may prove useful in anticipating downburst development. One such radar signature is the KDP core, which can indicate processes such as melting and precipitation loading that increase negative buoyancy and can result in downburst development. Therefore, KDP cores associated with 81 different downbursts across 10 states are examined to explore if this signature could provide forecasters with a reliable and useable downburst precursor signature. KDP core characteristics near the environmental melting layer, vertical gradients of KDP, and environmental conditions were quantified to identify any differences between downbursts of varying intensities. The analysis shows that 1) KDP cores near the environmental melting layer are a reliable signal that a downburst will develop, 2) while using KDP cores to anticipate an impending downburst’s intensity is challenging, larger KDP near the melting layer and larger vertical gradients of KDP are more commonly associated with strong downbursts than weak ones, 3) downbursts occurring in environments with less favorable conditions for downbursts are associated with higher magnitude KDP cores, and 4) KDP cores evolve relatively slowly (typically longer than 15 min), which makes them easily observable with the 5-min volumetric updates currently provided by operational radars.

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