‘This is not your grandfather’s climate’: Department of Energy

Photo: Jason Furtado, associate professor and Carlisle and Lurlene Mabry Presidential Professor in the School of Meteorology, School of Atmospheric Sciences and Geography, is the principal investigator on a project to explore and simulate the atmospheric processes that lead to heat waves, extreme rainfall, droughts and other potentially catastrophic weather events.
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Credit: Image courtesy of the University of Oklahoma

Extreme weather events, like those affecting millions of Americans this summer, threaten public safety, destabilize supply chains and damage critical infrastructure. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Los Alamos National Laboratory have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore and simulate the atmospheric processes that lead to heat waves, heavy rains, droughts and other potentially catastrophic weather events.

Jason Furtado, associate professor and Presidential Professor at Carlyle and Lurlene Mabry in the School of Meteorology, School of Atmospheric Sciences and Geography, is leading the project along with co-investigators Stephen Cavallo and James Robert of OU’s School of Meteorology and James Benedict with Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“There are two issues we are looking to address,” Furtado said. “The first is to gain a better ability to predict extreme weather events beyond two or three weeks. The second is to understand how climate change will affect the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

For extreme weather events to occur, there must be a stagnant and continuous weather pattern. Weather experts refer to these patterns as blocking patterns.

“Imagine the flow of the atmosphere as a river. If you throw a rock into this river, the flow will have to go around it. These rocks are basically the blocking patterns we are looking for,” Furtado said.

Weather experts do not currently fully understand how blocking patterns form or how long they may last. Models can produce blocks but are unable to maintain them for a long time.

“The University of Oklahoma is in a unique position to handle this type of research,” Furtado said. “Not only do we have partnerships with the National Weather Center, NOAA, and the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, but our partners in the College of Atmospheric Sciences and Geography can also help us communicate our research to key decision makers.”

An additional component of this research focuses on the impact of climate change on extreme weather events such as wildfires, drought, and extreme winter weather. This research will help local, state, and national leaders prepare to deal with these situations.

“Understanding what the future climate might hold will be helpful for people and their planning and the planning that cities will need to do,” Furtado said. “We all have to be better prepared for new extreme weather iterations. This isn’t your grandfather’s climate anymore.”


About the project

The project, “Toward Improved Simulation and Prediction of Northern Hemisphere Extratropical Blocking Patterns and Extreme Weather,” is funded by an anticipated grant of $673,938 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Award No. DE-SC0024379. The project began on September 1, 2023, and is expected to finish on August 31, 2026.

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic, and health care needs of the state, region, and nation. For more information, visit www.ou.edu.

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