Provide advance notice of severe weather

Provide advance notice of severe weather

Heat waves, floods and forest fires. As the climate warms, Americans must learn to live with these extremes.

But that doesn’t make it any less terrifying or dangerous.

Planning for them can help save lives and property.

That’s why Professor Ben Kirtman is working on ways to make digital forecasting tools more accurate and localized, so that officials at the city and county level can prepare with advance warning before their communities are hit by any of these extreme weather events.

This summer, Kirtman, the William R. Middlethon, Harvard’s third chair of geosciences. Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth SciencesHe received three grants totaling more than $3 million from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This funding will allow him to collaborate with Rosenstiel’s colleagues and former students across the country to further understand and predict the effects of the meteorological phenomenon known as El Niño. This information will help forecasters prepare advance warnings about floods, heat waves and wildfires.

Temperature and precipitation/El Niño phenomenon

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate phenomenon that has a significant impact on precipitation, temperature, and winds around the world. The most recent El Niño event began in June 2023 and is expected to last until March 2024. The climate pattern is identified by warmer sea surface water in the Pacific Ocean moving east along the equator. This coincides with a decrease in atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean, which leads to a weakening of the trade winds. As a result, El Niño typically results in colder, drier winters in the northern United States, but the southern half of the country experiences a wetter winter. It also exacerbates heat waves and makes the oceans hotter, which is harmful to marine life.

Working with Rosenstiel alumna Sarah Larson — now a climatologist at North Carolina State University — Kirtman will study some of the remaining unknowns to predict El Niño, which typically occurs about every two to seven years.

Researchers are confident in their ability to predict whether El Niño will be active next year, but they are still unable to predict the severity of this phenomenon. To do this, they will study the strength of the buildup of hot water in the Pacific Ocean, known as “preconditioning,” and other global weather patterns that influence El Niño.

Kirtman believes this work could help people around the world prepare for El Niño, which often brings with it drastic temperature changes and affects a variety of things like fish migration, for example.

“By providing the best available forecast of El Niño season intensity, we can provide stakeholders with the ability to plan for impacts well in advance,” said Kirtman, who also directs the research team. Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studiesin cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and 10 partner universities Addresses issues of national concern in the context of NOAA’s environmental forecasting and stewardship missions. Curtman is too Deputy Director of the Frost Institute for Data and Computing Sciences.

Kirtman received a $1.5 million grant to improve these forecasting tools.

Forest fires

Another grant aims to improve the forecasts that California first responders rely on to prepare for and respond to wildfires. With more than 7,000 wildfires burning more than 331,000 acres in 2022, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, information is needed quickly. Currently, first responders rely on short-range general weather forecasts and basic forecasting tools such as the Hot Dry Wind Index (HDWI) which is erratic and can only predict weather conditions for up to two weeks.

Through this study, Kirtman and Samantha Kramer, a Rosenstiel alumna who now works as an air quality data scientist at Sonoma Technology, Inc., in San Francisco, were awarded $822,456 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to improve this Forecasts are extended throughout the entire wildfire season. To do this, they will use tools developed by Kirtman to measure El Niño, but they will also incorporate a variety of predictive data such as wind, humidity, soil moisture, precipitation and temperature.

Kirtman and Kramer will also meet regularly with federal and state emergency officials to tailor the search to their needs.

“We plan to work closely with meteorologists from the U.S. Forest Service to formulate improved forecasts,” Kirtman said. “Understanding how they use predictions will drive how science is developed, so they will have a more comprehensive picture of the methodology and enhance confidence in using predictions to make the best decisions.”

Kirtman received $822,456 for the project.


Another grant will focus on coastal flooding along the East Coast of the United States. The goal of this NOAA-funded study is to provide local communities with detailed, daily and long-term forecasts of flooding, not just when a hurricane is approaching.

This project also has a connection to the El Niño phenomenon. Although people can easily understand how the Pacific coast is affected by El Niño (formally known as El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO) since the weather phenomenon originates deep in the Pacific Ocean. But Kirtman wants to show how it also affects global weather patterns so dramatically that it affects the daily coastal flooding that occurs in places like Charleston, South Carolina.

“When you watch the weather forecast on TV, things start to develop,” Kirtman said. “Not only will they talk about temperature, humidity and rain chances, they’ll start talking about, ‘What’s the flood forecast for this next week?’ “This is the type of research that will inform us.”

Kirtman was awarded $750,000 for the project, which he will run with Rosenstiel researchers Emily Baker, Brian Soden, and Brian McNoldy.

Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Sciences

(Tags for translation)Extreme Weather

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