Midwest thunderstorm study points toward better forecasts

September 30, 2004

Arlington, Va. -- Newly documented small-scale circulations embedded in thunderstorm squall lines not only spew destructive straight-line winds, but may spawn up to 20% of all U.S. tornadoes. Remnant circulations from large thunderstorm clusters can survive for days, triggering new storm cells.

Scientists expect these and other findings to improve forecasts of damaging winds and heavy rain.

The results emerge from three-dimensional portraits of thunderstorms collected across the stormy Midwest in a field study coordinated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. Based just east of St. Louis, the Bow Echo and MCV Experiment (BAMEX) employed aircraft and ground-based storm chasers to document a wide range of storm types that prowled the Midwest from May to July 2003. Funding for the $4 million study was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's primary sponsor.

A summary of BAMEX results will be presented on October 5 in Hyannis, Mass., at the American Meteorological Society's 22nd Conference on Severe Local Storms.

"BAMEX is beginning to yield significant results," says Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSF's division of atmospheric sciences. "The collaborative efforts of many researchers have resulted in new knowledge important to understanding severe storms and the tornadoes they often spawn."

Among the most noteworthy results: Scientists from more than a dozen colleges and universities joined NCAR and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for BAMEX.
NSF Program Contact: Cliff Jacobs, cjacobs@nsf.gov, 703-292-8520

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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