I've been in Norman Oklahoma the past week, participating in an experiment to improve weather warnings. The Hazardous Weather Test Bed is located at the National Weather Center in Norman, where the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and the National Severe Storms Laboratory are. The SPC issues all the tornado watches across the U.S. The Weather Center is on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, and is a center of atmospheric research.
Every spring, a series of week long experiments are conducted to evaluate new research, and forecast tools that will hopefully allow forecasters to detect severe weather sooner. This week it was three National Weather Service forecasters and myself. We evaluated several tools, but I thought I would tell you about just two that were very fascinating.
We can currently detect cloud to ground lightning strikes, but in a few areas around the nation special equipment is set up to detect all lightning in a thunderstorm. In two years a new weather satellite called GOES R will be launched and it will be able to see lightning across all North America and is expected to be very valuable. New research shows that a sudden increase in total lightning is often followed by severe weather.
I helped track several storms this week in Colorado/Alabama that showed this very well. Meteorologists call this a lightning jump, and it shows great promise in being able to increase the warning time for severe weather from just a few minutes to as much as 30 minutes. It should also reduce the false alarm rate.