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  • Scientific Understanding

Scientific Understanding

Diagram of air flow within a low pressure system Meteorologists must have a thorough understanding of the science of meteorology and atmospheric motions in order to accurately predict the weather. Research meteorologists are constantly pushing the cutting edge of the science to advance forecast techniques and learn more about our atmosphere and how it produces our weather. Operational meteorologists, those who create the weather forecasts we all rely upon, must read scientific articles, participate in workshops, and study big storm events in order to stay on top of new ideas and techniques. This allows forecasts to become better.

As meteorologists continue to probe the atmosphere, performing more experiments and studies, we grow in our understanding of what creates various weather patterns and how to forecast these patterns. We keep finding better and better ways to look for certain things that are clues to forecasting big storms and even just mild sunny days.

One area of meteorological study important to residents of the Great Lakes area is the interaction that takes place between the air, the land, and these huge bodies of water. Accurate forecasts of winds and waves on the lakes are critical to both the crews of the large freighters making their living on the lakes and to the weekend recreational boater or fisherman relaxing and enjoying time on the water.

In order to provide accurate wind and wave forecasts, meteorologists must study the effects of different airmass on the lakes in the generation of waves and look at the different factors important to producing waves. For example in 1980, NOAA researchers Liu and Ross studied different samplings of winds, wave heights, and water surface temperatures and concluded that atmospheric stability plays a role in the growth of waves. They showed that the wind speeds and fetch distance needed to generate the same wave heights are less for an unstable atmosphere than for a stable one. This was an important advancement in meteorology since the 1975 Fitzgerald storm as the atmosphere over the Great Lakes is frequently unstable during the fall and early winter.

Another area of important research is rapidly deepening low pressure systems such as the one associated with the Fitzgerald storm. NOAA and NASA researchers extensively studied flow around low pressure systems during the late 1970s and early 1980s identifying different flow patterns not clearly understood. As a result of this research, forecasters gained a better understanding of the effects of jet stream winds on the development of deepening low pressure storms. This advanced knowledge allows today's meteorologist to provide more accurate and detailed forecasts.

Better understanding of the structure and flows around intense low pressure systems is critical to accurate weather forecasts.
(Image from Snowstorms along the Northeastern Coast of the United States: 1955 to 1985 by Kocin and Uccellini)

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