Texas Tech University

Student Spotlight

Occupational Hazards: Texas Tech's Participation in the Hazardous Weather Testbed

 by Austin Coleman (M.S. student)

Testbed GroupExperimental Forecast Program team May 2019, Austin pictured in front row, third from right, Dr. Brain Ancell directly behind Austin on back row.


Occupational Hazards: Texas Tech's Participation in the Hazardous Weather Testbed

On any typical spring day in May at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, there's more brewing than just storms and coffee. Up the stairs and to the left one walks into a glass room abuzz with the exchange of ideas from one of the most professionally diverse group of meteorologists in the world. This is the NOAA's Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiment, and this May will mark its twelfth year of conduction. In a nearly literal realization of research to operations, the HWT SFE brings together meteorological researchers and forecasters alike to put a suite of cutting-edge forecast products to the test - by using them to forecast severe weather in real time! Divided into two programs, the Experimental Forecast Program and the Experimental Warning Program, this effort is pivotal to the improvement of forecasts on multiple time scales, from increasing tornado lead times to improving the spatial accuracy of 24-hour hail forecasts.

I first experienced the HWT SFE Experimental Forecast Program last May, although my advisor's (Dr. Brian Ancell) research group has been participating regularly over the past five years. Brian, Aaron Hill (TTU PhD student), and I led evaluation on a product we developed to improve computer model forecasts of hazardous weather at 12- to 48-hour lead times. The technique uses a data mining approach to siphon out early forecast aspects relevant to the prediction of a later high-impact weather event and uses that important information to improve the model forecast. Up to that point my research focused on verifying and optimizing the technique objectively, and seeing the product evaluated from a forecasting perspective was truly eye-opening!

Every week, a new group of forecasters and researchers participated in the program, bringing new perspectives along with them. After explaining how the product works, we would identify the “forecast problem of the day” and focus the post-processing technique on that geographical region. The next day, we verified the forecasts together by comparing the performance of pre-processed Texas Tech model forecasts (link to the TTU system below) with our post-processed model forecasts and discussed the differences. Oftentimes, participants were interpreting and using the technique in ways that I had not previously considered. The diversity of perspectives was instrumental in going forward with the technique and solidified how crucial interdisciplinary perspectives are to a scientific conversation. This year, we return to the HWT with a similar product applied to a much broader suite of models called the CLUE (or the Community Leveraged Unified Ensemble – we meteorologists really do love our acronyms), and with potential for an active severe weather season, I am sure fascinating discoveries await!

The Hazardous Weather Testbed represents an innovative path towards the ultimate end goal of saving lives and property. By bringing researchers and forecasters into one room for an extended period we can better identify the shortcomings in current forecasting and warning techniques, explore proposed solutions to forecasting challenges, and push the boundaries of science. And of course, would it truly be a forecasting experiment without spending some time experiencing the storms being forecast?




norman grimes