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Saturday, 05 September 2009 18:31

Predicting thunderstorms just got better

According to Australian researchers, the probability of predicting the next thunderstorm is now better with the use of a technique called THESPA, which can produce “nowcasts” for up to one hour ahead of the storm.

The technique called THESPA stands for Thunderstorm Environment Strike Probability Algorithm.

Australian mathematician and computer scientist Sandy Dance, at the Weather Forecasting Group within the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR), developed it.

The summary of the research performed on THESPA is written in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.

Sandy Dance, Elizabeth Ebert, and David Scurrah, all from the CAWCR, authored the article entitled “Thunderstorm strike probability nowcasting”. (DOI: 10.1175/2009JTECHA1279.1).

According to their abstract, “To assist in thunderstorm warning, automated nowcasting systems have been developed that detect thunderstorm cells in radar images and propagate them forward in time to generate forecasted threat areas.”

The authors state that current methods are unable to measure the accuracy of their forecasts and are only able to predict a “threat area” in which a storm is likely to occur.

Page two concludes.

With their “nowcasts,” (rather than the less reliable “forecasts”) they have that ability “to provide probabilistic thunderstorm nowcasts for risk assessment and emergency decision making” [Abstract]

The THESPA system assigns a probability of a thunderstorm hitting a particular location at a particular time.

According to the New Scientist article “We know where you’ll be this summer” (August 29-September 4, 2009, page 17), “Existing methods merely predict a “threat area” in which a storm is likely to appear. THESPA can detect individual storms and predict their paths, so locations within the threatened area get different probabilities.”

Dr. Dance states, “Our system is more geographically specific.” [New Scientist]

The abstract states, “Results from a statistical analysis of Thunderstorm Identification, Tracking, Analysis, and Nowcasting (TITAN) tracking errors of nowcasts made near Sydney, Australia were used to specify the distribution, which is then applied to data collected from the World Weather Research Programme (WWRP) Beijing 2008 Forecast Demonstration Project.

In other words, the THESPA system was tested using records of thunderstorms near Sydney, Australia, and then applied to data from 2,394 storms around Beijing, China, during the 2008 Olympics.

The results showed that THESPA was more accurate than current methods of predicting thunderstorms.

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