HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- You've heard of Doppler and VIPIR, but even the best forecast systems can't necessarily tell you if a severe storm is going to hit your neighborhood. Now, atmospheric scientists have discovered that clouds' colors could hold the key to more accurate predictions of when and exactly where storms will hit.
You need Flash Player 8 or higher to view video content with the ROO Flash Player.
Click here to download and install it.
In John Nighswonger's neighborhood, this is the sound of the morning after. The tornado hit just before midnight.
"Right when I went upstairs, that's when it hit, and all the limbs came down and I just ran as fast as I could and threw the mattress over the family, and it was gone,
Nighswonger told Ivanhoe. "That was it."
Nighswonger knew storms were coming, but he didn't realize they would hit so close to home.
"I think sometimes we take it for granted," he said. "It's going to be somebody else's house and not yours or something."
Atmospheric scientist John Mecikalski, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is using satellite data to watch the clouds and predict where severe storms will hit minutes before it happens. It's called nowcasting.
"On a day when there's 30 percent chances of rain everywhere, there's some locations that really have an 80 percent chance of rain, and this product basically is going to isolate which areas over the next one hour -- maybe up to three hours -- that in fact do have that higher probability," Dr. Mecikalski said.
Using infrared and visible imaging from NOAA's GOES satellite, this software can now identify which cumulus clouds have high potential for producing high winds, heavy rain and lightning.
"Then we're able to monitor about eight different aspects of the clouds properties from the infrared data, and more importantly, we're able to track the clouds as they're growing," Dr. Mecikalski said.
Color coding identifies the storm clouds before they even appear on radar.
"Actually, the darker the colors in this case, not the lighter colors," Dr. Mecikalski said. "There's a strong implication that the cloud is growing very fast."
Which clouds will produce storms, and when? This satellite analysis could lead to more accurate warnings and fewer false alarms.
"You could actually get an alert on your cell phone and say, oh it's going to be lightning or raining really close to me within the next thirty minutes to an hour, for sure," Dr. Mecikalski said.
Early warnings to keep us all safer
Based on the early success of the new system, scientists are working with NASA and the FAA to develop a forecasting system for use at the nation's airports to provide earlier and more accurate warnings of impending storms.
The American Meteorological Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
More than two million Americans are living with either a pace maker or defibrillator. The wires connect to these life-saving devices could be deadly. We’ll show you what doctors are doing to remove these dangerous leads.