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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists will deploy a mobile Doppler radar in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area during the next few weeks to learn more about the life cycle of severe thunderstorms that occur in the desert southwest. They will be searching and measuring storms that produce a very strong wind phenomenon called microbursts. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Salt River Project based in Tempe, Ariz., is funding this exploratory field research program which is being conducted by scientists from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., in conjunction with SRP engineers and meteorologists. This is the first time this type of research has been conducted focusing on the impacts of microbursts on the electric power grid.
SRP is the largest provider of electricity to the greater Phoenix area, providing electric service to about 825,000 customers. SRP also is the metropolitan area’s largest supplier of water, delivering about 1 million acre-feet to agricultural, urban and municipal water users.
“Microbursts are a form of downbursts, which are winds bursting down from a thunderstorm as a result of the rain cooled air sinking. Known for their devastating effects on aviation called wind shear, they potentially can damage power systems, especially in the desert southwest,” said Ken Howard, NSSL research meteorologist and program manager. “Extreme microburst events typically occur this time of year during the southwest United States’ monsoon season.”
Researchers will gather data using a Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching-Radar (SMART-Radar), a 5-cm Doppler radar mounted on a truck developed by NSSL in collaboration with the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University.
The mobile radar scans lower and faster than conventional radars, providing more information about the wind speed and sheer structure in thunderstorms.
“We hope this is the first of several years of documenting this and providing SRP with the strength of microburst winds and the background environment of the storms associated with them,” said Howard. “We will also be using the radar to examine other storm structures such as those leading to Arizona flash floods and storms associated with extreme amounts of cloud to ground lightning.”
The ultimate goal of this project is to help SRP engineers and meteorologists forecast and mitigate extreme microburst and other severe storm events. For more than 15 years, NSSL and SRP have collaborated on basic research projects to investigate and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather and flood prediction. Knowledge gained from their research has ultimately benefited weather forecasters throughout the United States as well as internationally.
The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is the only federally-supported laboratory focused on investigations of severe and hazardous weather. The lab’s scientists and staff explore new ways to improve understanding of the causes of severe weather and ways to use weather information to assist National Weather Service forecasters, as well as federal, university and private sector partners. NSSL is part of NOAA Research and was established in 1964.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
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National Severe Storms Laboratory: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov
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