Earth System Science Center and Department of Atmospheric Science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Student’s research on hail ‘scars’ to be presented at Suomi event

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Oct. 27, 2014) — Using data from an instrument aboard a 3-year-old satellite, graduate student Jordan Bell is developing a system to detect and measure the ‘scars’ left by hail storms that pound the Midwest and the Great Plains.

Ultimately, he hopes to develop a system that will automatically detect and measure crop damage caused by hail storms anywhere in the U.S.

Bell, a master’s student in atmospheric science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, and other scientists will present their work and discuss opportunities for further research using data from instruments aboard the Suomi (pronounced sue-me) National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite during a November workshop hosted by UAH.

Working through NASA’s SPoRT (Short-term Prediction Research and Transition) center in UAH’s Cramer Research Hall, Bell is using data gathered by both Suomi’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument and NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer to develop a tool that can track when crops have a significant change in their “health.”

“For instance, if you look at Iowa during the growing season, it’s all corn,” Bell said. “If there is a damaging hail storm, within a couple of days you will see the damaged corn begin to wilt. The pixels detected by the satellites are no longer as green as they were before. You will see the scars left by the storm damage.”

Because Suomi’s sensors look at most spots on Earth (and everywhere in the U.S.) every day, an automated tool might be built to recognize sudden changes in vegetation in one area on the ground. Ultimately, Bell will merge the satellite data with National Weather Service Doppler radar data that indicate the presence of hail inside a storm, to give the satellite detectors a “heads up” on where to look for hail damage.

Bell’s short-term goal is to get his hail damage monitoring system integrated into SPoRT’s disaster monitoring and response activities. Later, he hopes it will become part of the National Weather Service’s storm damage assessment tool kit, so the weather service can more accurately and efficiently track hail damage without having to do the same kinds of labor-intensive on-site surveys done to track tornado damage.

In the long term, other possible users might include federal and state agencies, such as the USDA, and companies that provide or underwrite crop insurance, as well as commodities traders and others.

The weather service estimates that hail causes about $1 billion a year in crop and property damages across the U.S., although that can vary greatly from year to year: a single storm in April 2001 caused an estimated $2 billion in hail damage alone.

Bell will have a poster on his research at the Second Suomi NPP Applications Workshop on Nov. 18-20 at the Westin Huntsville at Bridge Street. Organized by UAH and sponsored by NASA and NOAA, the free workshop is designed for scientists who might use Suomi data in the Earth science and applications communities.

The Suomi satellite was launched on Oct. 28, 2011 as a partnership between NASA and NOAA. In the three years since its launch, Suomi instruments have been used for weather forecasting, and disaster response and management. Topics to be discussed during the workshop include that work plus potential applications research in ecological forecasting, air quality and public health monitoring, and water resources management.

The workshop is free, but attendance is limited to 150 participants. Online registration is at Additional information at

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Fig. 1: June132014HailScars.png

VIIRS Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (combines VIIRS visual and near
infrared images) taken on June 13, 2014, show two massive hail scars left as a
result of severe storms that moved through the Midwest earlier in June.




Fig. 2: JordanBell102314

UAH graduate student Jordan Bell

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