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

PECAN storm studies continue in Kansas

HAYS, KS – Thursday night’s weather research mission was unofficial, butit was officially unofficial. And it didn’t go very far. In fact, the UAHcontingent didn’t leave the parking lot.

With the official PECAN research program taking a day off while waitingfor the weather to cooperate, a team of UAH scientists and students firedup a suite of mobile instruments to scan the sky above Fort Hays StateUniversity through the night just in case something interesting happens.Again.

Twice during the first two weeks of this six week campaign the weather has mocked the dozens of meteorologists, forecasters and scientists gathered in Hays. For the UAH team, twice is enough.

The deal breaker was Saturday night, June 13, when a thunderstorm popped up directly over Hays and spread over parts of two counties after the assembled research teams declared an off day and wandered off to dinner and other activities. That’s a problem because storms that pop up at night are one of the things PECAN was assembled to study.

Ouch.

Those after dark storms are little understood, so the tools for forecasting where they might pop up aren’t exactly reliable. In fact, many of the science teams here didn’t know there had been a storm until it was mentioned at the Sunday briefing.

“It surprised everyone,” said Kevin Knupp, a professor of atmospheric science at UAH. Fortunately, one team left an instrument running through the night, so “we may have enough data to get some clues, but we certainly didn’t have the network deployed.”

Starting Sunday, Knupp led an effort to create unofficial, ad hoc research missions on the nights they aren’t “on duty” with PECAN. Dubbed unofficial field operations (UFOs), they soon had an official set of definitions and guidelines so UFOs wouldn’t be confused with the official kind.

It’s kind of like the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies, except instead of a barn and a piano (“Let’s put on a show!”) there are several trucks and trailers loaded with powerful instruments designed to probe the atmosphere for useful data. And students eager for research experience  -- or data to fill out a thesis or dissertation.

Let’s do science!

Knupp found support for these off night operations from several of the research teams assembled for PECAN; while UAH’s Mobile Integrated Profiling Systems spent Thursday night looking up from the lot where they were parked waiting for an official field operation, two Doppler On Wheels units from the National Science Foundation’s severe weather research center moved off campus to better scan the sky.
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