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LJWorld.com weblogs Lawrence Weather Watch

Weather models not up to lightning speed quite yet

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Weather models have a hard enough time dealing with quick changes. A thunderstorm is a perfect example of a “quick-changing” weather feature that weather models are currently unequipped to handle very well. Here are a few reasons why thunderstorms are not picked up very well by weather models.

In general, a weather model forecast becomes less reliable after 48-72 hours, especially for weather features as small as a thunderstorm; that's because most thunderstorms are just miles across (too tiny of a feature for weather models to grasp with great accuracy). Unfortunately, most of the readily available weather models out there cannot accurately predict how an individual thunderstorm will act; or, even worse yet, how individual thunderstorms will interact with one another, and the weather around them.

Where weather model prediction stands at this point is forecasting the larger environment for thunderstorms. Weather models can do a decent job at trying to forecast certain conditions ripe for thunderstorm potential. The actual starting point of thunderstorms, called "initiation,” can be a real problem for some weather models, however. Once storms do form, they too have an impact on the weather environment around them; and subsequently, will impact how a weather model handles new storm development. In short, a thunderstorm is just too messy, turbulent, and small-scale for most weather models to forecast for, and forecast well, at this time.

Some universities and local research institutes fork out a lot of money to better handle these small scale features in weather models, like thunderstorms. However, at this point, most of those weather models still have some glitches. Best bets are to watch your local weatherman/woman, who is trained on being able to discern when an environment is capable of producing thunderstorms. They are also trained on thunderstorm signals that give a "heads up" on what a storm is about to do, or if the storm may be ready to help produce another thunderstorm.

While we know lots and lots about thunderstorms, it is still very hard to get all our knowledge into a computer. It may be many, many years, and lots and lots of money, to create a weather model that can better predict the turbulent nature of thunderstorms.

With that said, the weather forecast is calling for lots of thunderstorms chances around the Fourth of July. Again, the environment will be conducive for storms, but banking on a specific time and place is definitely not set in stone. Safe to say there will likely be some wet moments this upcoming holiday weekend. Also safe to say that your local weathermen/women are here to watch every move any thunderstorm makes, too.

Best,

Alex Harrington

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