F A Q's
Learn About Our Job
Winter Storm Center
By far, this question is asked of our staff the most -- "Tell me about
the work you do". In short, our job is to detect those elements within
our atmosphere which may lead to severe storm development. This kind of work
is a specialty, and requires knowledge and skill. In order to do our job
correctly, we need the tools of the trade, such as advanced computer
systems, satellites, Doppler radar, upper air soundings, and a dense network
of surface and upper air reports. Using these and many other pieces of
information, we can learn about what state the atmosphere is in now, then
forecast what we believe the state should be in within 6 to 12 hours from
now. Knowing this helps us to know storm movements during watch periods. Our
work is at times very challenging and combersome for our forecasters, but we
are always up to the task. When an area is identified as having the
"potential" for severe weather, the work of forecasting begins!
Our job -- 101:
As mentioned above, our primary job is to continuesly monitor conditions in the
atmosphere, which may lead to severe weather. Once an area is identified as having
a "potential" for severe weather to develop, we focus in on that area, and
continue collecting surface and upper air data. However, the specific duties we
perform in this regard are numerous and too lengthy to discuss here. Therefore,
we'll just touch on some of the more vital tasks. Those are:
The key factor which makes our job abit unique is that we become "detectives" in
the sense that we thoroughly scour over the atmosphere, looking at all mandatory
and non-mandatory levels, and collecting data. The use of high resolution
satellite loops and Doppler radar let's us see what's happening now. But, the
more challenging factor we must solve is what the state of the atmosphere will be
like say 6 to 12 hours from now. This is where the short term model guidance
enters the picture. Please understand, the models do not attempt to solve our
riddle of how the atmospheric state will be. Rather, each model offers it's own
solution or estimation of how things may turn out. We only look at the
models for guidance only! After review of this massive data pile, we can then
prepare our outlook suite accordingly. We have a suite of different outlook
products which are shown below. Each outlook covers a 24 hour block of time, and
is valid for the period stated. The outlooks include:
- Upper air data. Analysis from all levels of the atmosphere.
- Model output data, both short and long term.
- Current surface data. Analysis of temperature, dew point, winds,
- Doppler radar and satellite data. Current and latest trends.
- Severe weather parameter analysis. This aids in predicting the type
of severe weather which may occur.
- Lightening strike data. Along with radar and satellite data to
monitor ongoing activity, and future trends.
Although rare, if the atmosphere becomes very volitle to explosive severe
thunderstorm development, this will be highlighted not only in the current
severe outlook, but also in the PDS section of the outlook center. PDS means
"Particularly Dangerous Situation", and this enhanced wording in our outlooks
should serve as a "heads up" to what is likely to be a very dangerous and even
life threatening situation. Because our products need to be available to our
clients and the public in a timely manner, each product is carefully reviewed by
two (2) sets of eyes before it goes online. This ensures the highest quality you
come to expect from our products. We do all this everyday on a time deadline.
- DAY ONE SEVERE OUTLOOK. This product covers the current
24 hour period, and is updated several times during this period. This is done to
ensure the very latest information is made available to those who need it.
- DAY TWO SEVERE OUTLOOK. This product covers tomorrow's period, or the
"day two" period, and is routinely updated twice per day. This allows our
forecasters to state what is coming together for a severe weather episode.
- DAY THREE SEVERE OUTLOOK. This product covers the day after tomorrow
period, and is routinely updated once per day unless the situation is changing
rapidly which would require an update.
- EXTENDED 4-8 DAY SEVERE OUTLOOK. This product was added to our
operational product suite in late 2006, and covers the longer range of out to
seven (7) days ahead. This product is routinely updated around 11:30 AM each
morning, and is largely based on medium range model guidance. It should be
understood that this product is provided solely for guidance purposes!
- MESOSCALE DISCUSSION. This is a short term forecast discussion for
the area(s) we believe severe thunderstorms will initiate within a few hours.
These discussions will also highlight any tornado potentials, and where they may
occur. These discussions are also used for heavy rainfall and major winter storm
events. Mesoscale discussions are issued only when needed.
But, our job don't stop here! Many of our forecasters also participate in
ongoing research into newer forecasting methods, computer simulations of severe
storms and tornadoes, and ideas for improvements in tornado detection and
warnings. On occasion, some of our forecasters will team up with researchers and
forecasters from the NSSL (National Severe Storms Laboratory) on joint research
projects. We are also kept busy gathering and analyzing statistical data sets,
so that you can learn more about recent and/or historic severe weather events.
After all this, and one begins to wonder how we can keep up with all we have to
do. It's not easy, but we are committed to our jobs! It's also one important
part of our mission -- to help save lives!
This was just a quick summary of what we do, and should provide you with some
insight of our work. Still, if you have questions, just
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