Story ideas from NCAR: Seasonal hurricane forecasts, El Niño, wind energy, and more

August 13, 2014

BOULDER - Researchers at NCAR and partner organizations are making significant headway in predicting the behavior of the atmosphere on a variety of fronts, including: These advances are summarized in short online features now published each week on our AtmosNews website:

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Here are some recent research highlights:

Seasonal hurricane forecasts

The quiet Atlantic hurricane season of 2013 came as a surprise to many, as seasonal forecasts had consistently predicted an unusually large crop of named storms. A new study by scientists at NCAR and North-West University (South Africa) points to a reason that seasonal forecasts are inherently limited. The scientists found that small-scale natural variations that cannot be predicted ahead of a hurricane season, such as a cluster of thunderstorms over a particular location, can make one season twice as active as another, even when El Niño and other large-scale hurricane-shaping elements remain the same.


Airborne wind energy

What if all the energy needed by society existed just a mile or two above our heads? NCAR, the University of Delaware, and the energy firm DNV GL have begun to weigh in on an emerging field known as airborne wind energy, examining where the strongest winds are and how much electricity they may be able to generate. Such winds, the researchers find, offer the potential to generate more than triple the average global electricity demand and are particularly strong above the U.S. Great Plains, coastal regions along the Horn of Africa, and large stretches of the tropical oceans.


El Niño and La Niña

For millions of people, the onset of El Niño or La Niña in northern autumn indicates whether they're likely to face unusually warm, cold, wet, or dry conditions over the coming winter. A new study pins down the process that apparently determines why La Niña events often last twice as long as typical El Niño events--a result with major implications for seasonal predictions extending more than a year out.


Avoiding space debris

Space debris poses serious risks to a wide array of satellites critical to society. NCAR is part of a collaborative effort, commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and brought into testing mode this summer, that takes into account real-time information on satellite tracks and space weather to predict future satellite paths as much as 72 hours in advance. The project will help operators steer spacecraft more accurately around debris.


Climate change and crop yield

Researchers have long projected that climate change will negatively affect crop yields, but NCAR and Stanford scientists recently went a step further by analyzing the risk of a major slowdown in crop yields in the next 20 years. Although the odds of a major production slowdown of wheat and corn are not very high, the risk is about 20 times more significant than it would be without global warming. This may require planning by organizations that are affected by international food availability and price.


The National Center for Atmospheric Research is a federally funded research and development center devoted to service, research, and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. The National Science Foundation is NCAR's primary sponsor, with significant additional support provided by other U.S. government agencies, other national governments, and the private sector. NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of more than 100 member colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences.
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