NASA Releases "NextStorm," An Early Warning Tool for Prediction of Hazardous Weather in Central America and Mexico
NASA and its partners have announced a new web-based product that will provide short-term predictions of thunderstorms, lightning, and the heavy rains that often result in severe floods in Central America and southern Mexico. Called NextStorm, this new product will be integrated into SERVIR, a high-tech satellite visualization and monitoring system for environmental management in this region.
SERVIR, Spanish for "to serve," leverages the satellite resources of the U.S. and other countries to put previously inaccessible Earth observation data and other tools into action in Central America. Serving all seven Central American countries and southern Mexico, as well as the Dominican Republic, SERVIR is a leading example of regional, collaborative information management, enabling informed decision-making by partnering government agencies and emergency responders in areas ranging from weather forecasts and disaster management to air pollution, fire monitoring and red tides.
"In the United States, we benefit from routine severe weather alerts, but in this region NextStorm will be particularly useful because Doppler weather radar generally does not exist." said Dan Irwin, SERVIR project director at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "The ability to warn communities about hazardous weather, such as thunderstorms, lightning, and heavy rains will help prevent property damage and save lives."
NextStorm, with its sophisticated modeling and prediction capability, will be SERVIR's newest contribution. The heart of the process is an algorithm developed by the University of Alabama in Huntsville which follows the progression of cumulus clouds and identifies those most likely to develop into thunderstorms. While only less than one percent of clouds develop into rain clouds, NextStorm evaluates, in real time, which factors are most likely to trigger a thunderstorm.
Satellite data are provided every fifteen to thirty minutes to NextStorm by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES satellites, which were designed, built and launched by NASA. Many factors lead to the development of stormy weather, such as temperature, humidity and cloud height. One of the most important factors in predicting thunderstorms is temperature change.
For example, when the top of a cloud rapidly cools, it means the cloud is growing quickly and there is a high probability of rain within one hour. When hazardous weather signatures are identified, the NextStorm program will inform users, mainly national forecast offices and meteorologists, that severe weather is imminent. This method was published in the American Meteorological Society's Monthly Weather Review in 2006.
"In time, we envision text alerts to mobile phones and other easily accessible warnings, all aimed at preventing or minimizing weather-related injury, death and economic loss," said Jacqueline E. Schafer, USAID Assistant Administrator.
NextStorm will become operational at the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), an international organization headquartered in Panama, this summer. CATHALAC has already trained Central American news weather forecasters and weather service meteorologists about NextStorm, in addition to other SERVIR satellite-based tools available for weather monitoring.
NOAA and NASA-funded scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have been testing and refining the NextStorm computer model for nearly two years, while NOAA has been providing developers with the feedback essential to increasing its accuracy. These scientists have compared NextStorm predictions of new thunderstorm development against U.S. ground-based radar observations of thunderstorms. The result has been nearly a 75 percent success rate in predicting heavy rain and thunderstorms, according to the American Meteorological Society's Monthly Weather Review in 2008. The NextStorm algorithm has successfully identified hazards generated by thunderstorms, including lightning, hail, high winds, flash floods and turbulence (for aircraft), 30 to 60 minutes ahead of stormy weather.
"NextStorm will translate into greater safety throughout the region," said Panamanian meteorologist Annette Quinn. "In particular, port and aviation communities will benefit from the alerts about threatening storms. Harbor terminal platform personnel, for instance, will be better protected from lightning."
NextStorm is a joint effort of NASA, NOAA, CATHALAC, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center Earth Science Office in Huntsville, Ala. manages an experimentation and development facility for SERVIR at the National Space Science and Technology Center.
In addition to being deployed in Central America, discussions are underway to bring NextStorm capabilities to East Africa.
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Media contacts: Steve Cole, 202-358-0918
Jennifer Morcone 256-544-7199
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.