The final report on the inaugural Hazardous Weather Testbed Hydro experiment has been released. The report details how the experiment was run, configuration details for AWIPS2, conclusions from the experiment and recommendations for future iterations of the experiment. Thanks again to all of our participants!
After 4 weeks the inaugural HWT-Hydro Experiment has come to a close. During the month of July, we welcomed 17 total participants from NWS offices across the United States. Both the participants and the experiment coordinators took every opportunity to share ideas and knowledge in an effort to improve communication between the research and operational portions of the weather enterprise. Our weekly “Tales from the Testbed” webinars were well-attended, averaging between 20 and 30 remote NWS offices each week. Many of us have made plans to stay in touch and some of us will see each other again as soon as the NWS Flash Flood Summit in September, when the conversation about flash flood observations, forecasting, and modeling will broaden to include all of the National Weather Service’s partners across the US. We recommend watching this space for further news about this year’s experiment, including preliminary results. An overview of the experiment will be presented at the National Weather Association’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City, UT in October. The FLASH research group has also submitted five HWT-Hydro-related abstracts to the 2015 AMS Annual Meeting which will be held in Phoenix, AZ in January.
Now let’s look back at the people who made the last four weeks possible. Thank you all!
On Wednesday, July 16, 2014, HWT-Hydro received a visit from NOAA Deputy Under Secretary Vice Adm. Michael S. Devany and National Weather Service Director Dr. Louis W. Uccellini. They were visiting Norman to see how research-to-operations (R2O) activities are conducted within the various NOAA units housed in the National Weather Center. Both officials discussed the ongoing efforts to align research activities at NSSL with the operational needs of the NWS. Dr. Uccellini described methods of easing the eventual R2O transition of the FLASH suite of forecast tools with the experiment’s principal investigator, Dr. JJ Gourley. Dr. Gourley also took the opportunity to explain how the various components of the FLASH product suite work in unison to give forecasters a view of heavy precipitation and flooding issues. Vice Adm. Devany and Dr. Uccellini visited during the middle of an experimental forecasting shift, where week 2 HWT-Hydro participants were monitoring potential flash flooding impacts in the High Plains and the Intermountain West. Week 2 participants are Britt Westergard (NWS Albany NY), Laura Belanger (NWS Peachtree City GA), Amanda Schroeder (NWS Fort Worth TX), and Jeff Waldstreicher (NWS Eastern Region).
Experimental activities have also attracted the attention of local media in central Oklahoma. Oklahoma City’s Fox affiliate, KOKH, aired a story about the experiment on Thursday, July 10. The KOKH story is available here: http://www.okcfox.com/story/25990371/forecasters-test-technology-to-better-predict-flash-floods.
One of the most intractable problems facing those who issue flash flood warnings and watches is verification. The term “flash flooding” means different things to different people, so observing these events is distinct from, say, observing a tornado. Most people immediately know what a tornado is but do you immediately know what a flash flood is? It’s okay if you answered “no”! We recognize that different strategies exist for locating and classifying flash floods. In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, the HWT-Hydro experiment is including observations from several distinct sources.
USGS Stream Gauges
Automated systems can provide useful information in these situations. USGS stream gauges automatically measure stream height (or “stage”) at over 16,000 sites across the United States every 15 minutes. At these sites, cross sectional information about the river channel is known and so these stage measurements can be converted into stream flow estimates. Additionally, the USGS and its partner agencies know enough about these locations to estimate the relative rarity (or “return period) of a particular flow, and at some locations, the National Weather Service has assigned flood stages corresponding to specific impacts at specific stream height levels. On flash.ou.edu, blue triangles mark stream gauge locations where the NWS “Action Stage” stage height has been exceeded by the gauge, the stream height has risen by a significant level in a short period of time, or the USGS estimated 2-year return period flow has been surpassed. These USGS observations are being fed to the FLASH system and the HWT-Hydro experiment by our partners at the NCEP Weather Prediction Center’s FFaIR experiment. The downside of USGS observations should already be clear: what happens if there’s a flood in an ungauged location? The answer to this question means we must seek out additional sources of information.
Local Storm Reports
The NWS operates 122 Weather Forecast Offices across the country, each of which is responsible for a set of counties, parishes, or boroughs. These offices issue flash flood watches and warnings as necessary. They also collect reports of flash flooding and other phenomena (called Local Storm Reports, or LSRs) because as forecasters, they have a vested interest in determining if a given watch or warning was successfully verified by on-the-ground conditions. So if they don’t receive reports volunteered by the public, broadcasters, social media, or local government officials, they will call known sources inside a watch or warning until they determine if flooding actually occurred. The NWS is responsible for the whole US so the LSRs should be nearly comprehensive but there are caveats to this: many areas with low or no population density will lack appropriate LSRs and in areas where no warning is issued there still could have been flash flooding. Outside of these warning polygons, if no one bothers to report impacts to their local NWS office no LSR will be issued. On the flash.ou.edu website, LSRs are represented by reddish-brown circles. They can be moused over to see the date and time at which the report was issued (in UTC) as well as the text describing the nature of the flash flooding impact.
Some folks may experience flash flooding but can’t, don’t know how, or don’t want to report this via phone to local officials or to their local NWS office. However, as smartphones proliferate, useful weather information can be garnered via crowd sourcing. One of the leading projects in this field was developed at the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma — mPING. mPING allows geolocated smartphone owners to report the type of precipitation or severe weather impact (including flash flooding) occurring at their location. This data is used by scientists at OU and NSSL, as well as NWS forecasters and others. All reports can be accessed via the mPING website and flash flooding reports in particular can be accessed via the FLASH website, where they appear as purple equilateral triangles. A report of flash flooding can fall into one of four possible impact classes in the mPING app, ranging from nuisance and minor flooding all the way up to deadly or damaging flooding. Remember, safety comes first when using mPING. Never drive into flooded roadways or walk into floodwaters! The free mPING app is available for iOS devices and Android devices from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, respectively.
One final source of observations is unique to the HWT-Hydro project. As part of the support provided to the program by the US Weather Research Program, we have hired two callers to work as part of NSSL’s 2014 SHAVE project. As our forecast participants and other guests issue experimental watches and warnings each afternoon and evening, SHAVE callers will use a national database of landline telephone numbers mapped to addresses to call people residing within and near these experimental products and give them telephone surveys about flash flooding impacts in and near their areas. These reports thus provide an extremely dense storm focused set of observations. On flash.ou.edu, SHAVE reports will appear as small squares. Those surveys where the respondent reported no flash flooding will appear in gray. Respondents reporting flash flooding will appear in blue.
Early each afternoon, HWT-Hydro participants will look back at the products they issued the afternoon before. They will evaluate the skill and usefulness of forecast tools and the utility of the various types of observations described above. Yesterday our forecasters split into two areas: one pair focused on Tennessee, Arkansas, and the surrounding area, while the other pair worked in the Desert Southwest with the ongoing monsoon.
The inaugural Hazardous Weather Testbed Hydrology (HWT-Hydro) experiment began today at the National Weather Center in Norman OK. This experiment will explore uses of the FLASH suite of flash flood and heavy rainfall products. Participants will be asked to use these products to issue experimental flash flood watches and warnings; these will include information about the likelihood or uncertainty of a given impact as well as the severity of expected impacts. Novel sources of flash flood observations, including the mPING mobile application and SHAVE phone calls, will be used to assess the effectiveness of the experimental tools and the experimental watches and warnings.
Two forecasters a week are participating in the experiment, with funding provided by the US Weather Research Program. This week’s forecasters are Mike Moneypenny (NWS Forecast Office Raleigh NC) and David Ondrejik (NWS Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center). Joining them are guests Chris Legro (NWS Forecast Office Gray ME) and Jonathan Brazzell (NWS Forecast Office Lake Charles LA).
Each day of the experiment will begin with a weather briefing from the Flash Flood and Intense Rainfall Experiment at the NCEP Weather Prediction Center in College Park MD. Then forecasters will spend time evaluating the performance of the experimental forecast tools and observations from the previous day’s shift. Forecasters will then issue flash flood watches and warnings as necessary, typically from 3 PM to 8 PM CDT, Monday through Thursday. This “virtual forecast office” will cover the entire Lower 48.
Today’s areas of focus can be broadly divided into three main components: the summer monsoon in the Desert Southwest, a complex of strong to severe convection in the middle Mississippi River and Ohio River valleys, and rain across the Middle Atlantic into the Northeast. As I type, our forecasters have already issued an experimental watch and two experimental warnings for afternoon storms in the Southwest (see below for these experimental products overlaid on state/national boundaries and 6-hr MRMS rainfall estimates). More frequent updates can be found by following the experiment on Twitter at @HWTHydro.
Members of the FLASH team have been involved in the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) to study warm season precipitation and hydrologic response in the complex terrain of western North Carolina. The team has been with NSSL’s NOXP radar to coordinate operations with several other ground-based platforms as well as NASA’s ER-2 and UND’s Citation aircraft. Further, a number of developmental radar-based (MRMS) and hydrologic model-based (FLASH) products are being supplied to the experimental team for research and evaluation. The experiment runs from May 1 – June 15, 2014.
Website hosting MRMS, FLASH, and NOXP products: http://wdssii.nssl.noaa.gov/web/wdss2/products/radar/iphex.shtml
More information about IPHEX can be found here: http://iphex.pratt.duke.edu
And here: http://pmm.nasa.gov/IPHEx
HyDROS students Jill Hardy and Race Clark recently taught a three-day CREST training workshop in Windhoek, Namibia. Participants were mainly drawn from members of Namibia’s Department of Hydrology, though others from the Polytechnic of Namibia, the Regional Center for Mapping and Resources for Development (Nairobi, Kenya), the South African National Space Agency (Pretoria, South Africa), NAMWater, and NASA also participated in the workshop. The workshop is part of a larger, ongoing effort to build capacity for flood and drought monitoring in the African nation. The NSF (via the Open Science Data Cloud PIRE program) funded Ms. Hardy and Mr. Clark’s travel, along with a grant to the University of Oklahoma from the NASA SERVIR program. Several workshop participants also got the chance to take part in field visits to three separate stream gauge stations on the Kuiseb River basin. CREST (Coupled Routing and Excess STorage) is a distributed hydrologic model used at varying scales across the globe and was jointly developed by OU and NASA. For more information, visit hydro.ou.edu/research/crest.
Race Clark (CIMMS at NSSL) was awarded first place in the graduate student poster competition at the 38th Annual National Weather Association (NWA) meeting in Charleston, SC. Clark is a Ph.D. student in the OU School of Meteorology and works with advisors J.J. Gourley (NSSL) and Yang Hong (OU Civil and Environmental Engineering).
The award is selected by the NWA Weather Analysis and Forecasting Committee. The poster, A CONUS-wide analysis of flash flooding: simulations, warnings, and observations, identifies regional trends in the frequency of flash flood observations in NWS Storm Data, flash flood warnings, and flash flood guidance. His co-authors are J.J. Gourley (NOAA/OAR/NSSL), Yang Hong (OU), Zac Flamig (OU), and Ed Clark (NOAA/NWS). The recognition includes $125 and complimentary membership in the NWA for 2014.
Prof. Céline Lutoff from the Universite de Grenoble, France has completed her 6-month visit with the FLASH team at the National Weather Center. While in Norman, she and her family experienced two EF5 tornadoes that were very near (Moore and El Reno), as well as the deadly Oklahoma City flash flood. Céline assisted in many flash flood-related studies with the team. In particular, she helped launch the “social component” of the Flood Observations – Citizens As Scientists using Technology (FLOCAST) project (http://flash.ou.edu/flocast/). Her expertise was invaluable in developing the interview questions that will be used to understand societal perceptions, responses, and behavior of victims impacted by flash floods. Céline helped in the development of a photography guideline, which is presently being used to collect unique and informative photographs of flash flooding. Lastly, she co-supervised a study that is aimed at understanding the characteristics of deadly and injurious flash flooding events vs. those that have little impact on lives. Although she will be missed, we anticipate many more fruitful collaborations with her and her team in France in the future! Céline was hosted at the University of Oklahoma by the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies.
NSSL’s Zachary Flamig has been awarded the prestigious 2013 Chateaubriand Fellowship. The merit-based grant is offered by the Embassy of France in the United States and aims to encourage collaborations, partnerships or joint projects between France and the U.S. Flamig is a Ph.D. student in the School of Meteorology at The University of Oklahoma and works at NSSL with advisor J.J. Gourley.
Flamig will conduct his fellowship at the University Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France and will work with the Hydrometeorology, Climate and Impacts (HCMI) team at the Laboratoire d’etude des Transferts en hydrologie et Environnement (LTHE). His mission will be to explore a variety of hydrologic models with various physics representations, including the French Cevennes (CVN) distributed hydrologic model, to determine the surface runoff generation and routing mechanisms that are needed to yield accurate simulations of flash floods. Results from his research topic will be incorporated in the U.S. Flooded Locations and Simulated Hydrographs (FLASH) project at NSSL, which capitalizes on the high-resolution (1km/5min) radar-based inputs from the NMQ/Q2 system. The four-month fellowship begins in January, 2014.
NSSL collaborated with the French team during HyMeX (Fall 2012) and used the NOAA X-Pol mobile radar to complement the research radar network. NSSL/CIMMS previously hosted an LTHE graduate intern, Martin Calianno, and is presently hosting Prof. Celine Lutoff, a social scientist. Flamig’s fellowship will strengthen collaboration between the teams to advance the state-of-the-science of flash flood prediction and societal impacts.