System looks for 'pop-up' thunderstorms

Sept. 27, 2011 at 8:20 PM
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Weather forecasting software used to plan U.S. airline flights each day has been linked together for use in a system to predict thunderstorms, researchers say.

Developed at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, the system uses real-time satellite weather data to monitor cumulus clouds as they develop, move and grow before they become surprise "pop-up" thunderstorms.

The Satellite Convection AnalySis & Tracking system works with other forecast technology to give 15-minute to 2-hour warnings of convective thunderstorms before they develop, a university release said Tuesday.

"The problem of predicting when convective storms will form is huge," John Mecikalski, a UA professor of atmospheric science who created the system, said. "Thousands of cumulus clouds form every day and only about 1 percent of those develop into storms. The challenge was to find a way to predict which clouds are about to turn into storms."

After years of development, SATCAST was incorporated this summer into the Federal Aviation Administration¹s automated forecasting system used by air traffic flow managers, airlines and others responsible for flight planning.

SATCAST was tested at National Weather Service forecast offices in Huntsville and in Florida, where it was accurate in its storm forecasts between 65 percent and 75 percent of the time, the researchers said.

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