Forecasting individual thunderstorm formation is a unique challenge in the meteorological world. Thunderstorms often form seemingly randomly, developing in very hard to predict places, morphing into different forms, and merging or dividing. This is especially true with air mass thunderstorms in hot and humid air masses. Meteorologists can say there’s a given chance of thunderstorms, but identifying exactly where and when individual thunderstorms will actually develop remains very difficult.
Keenan Eure, a doctoral student in meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, along with other meteorologists, is working to make progress toward this goal. Combining underused geostationary satellite and Doppler radar data, they have been able to create a more accurate depiction of weather conditions in the boundary layer of the atmosphere. This is essential to determining where and when individual thunderstorms will form because this layer is where conditions come together to initiate surface boundaries, inflow and updrafts into developing clouds.
In a case study involving Texas panhandle thunderstorms in May 2018, a more accurate depiction of low-level wind fields near the surface from data assimilation of satellite and radar data led to more accurate thunderstorm predictions. This means that there may be promise in combining these data to help with prediction of individual thunderstorm forecasting. Of course, due to various mechanisms that lead to thunderstorm formation, particularly air mass boundaries and convection, this method may work much better for thunderstorms that form along boundaries and not well for those that form via convection, as air mass thunderstorms do.
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