The University of Manchester joins UK scientists on project to improve forecasts of extreme weather

Scientists at The University of Manchester will help the Met Office improve its forecasts of extreme weather through a new large-scale collaborative research project.

The researchers have been awarded £1.8 million to carry out a novel observational campaign in southern England to evaluate turbulence in the atmosphere.

The campaign, named WesCon – Observing the Evolving Structures of Turbulence (WOEST), is being led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science to complement the Wessex Convection (WesCon) Experiment led by the Met Office. Its results hope to improve how we predict the weather on a day-to-day basis and manage risks from severe weather more effectively.

Dr Emily Norton, Scientist at the Centre for Atmospheric Science at The University of Manchester, said: “Weather models currently rely heavily on theoretical knowledge to simulate turbulence in our atmosphere, and this could be a large source of potential errors in weather predictions.

“The Met Office model has made many improvements over the last decade, but it still has some long-term biases and is prone to forecasting too much rain at the wrong time in convective conditions.

“Working together, our goal is to build a complete picture of turbulence in our atmosphere how the processes leading up to an extreme weather event evolve.”

Throughout the summer months, The University of Manchester will be part of the team to set up and operate meteorological instruments, including wind profilers, drones, radars and lidars positioned at different locations within Southern England and will provide a unique insight of the state of turbulence in the atmosphere at any given time.

After the campaign, the team will begin analysing the data from all of the measurements to better understand the atmospheric conditions near the surface of the Earth leading up to the formation of thunderstorms.

Researchers from all organisations will combine observations from every angle to help them describe turbulence in the atmosphere, and ultimately, will use the observations to improve the high-resolution weather forecasts.

Dr Ryan Neely III, lead researcher from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, said: “Turbulence is easy to see in our daily lives, if you look closely at clouds in our sky, you might notice how air swirls in random fluctuations around their edges.

“But how do you quantify chaos? Our observational campaign sets out to do just that. We have brought together a world-leading team, and state-of-the-art technology to answer a question that has intrigued me since I was a kid.”

Turbulence in our atmosphere is best described as chaotic motions of the air, and can cause irregular fluctuations in the wind, temperature, humidity and composition of the atmosphere.

Although turbulence plays a key role in thunderstorms, the ability to measure turbulence and how it impacts on our weather has been a longstanding challenge for researchers and there have been very few observations dedicated to evaluating turbulence in the sky.

The WOEST campaign, which also includes scientists from the University of Reading, University of Oxford and Imperial College London, will aim to capture real-world data about how turbulence near the Earth’s surface develops over time, and to produce three dimensional estimates of turbulence in convective clouds.

Some of these weather radar will be powered by HVO fossil-free biofuel diesel generators, instead of diesel fuel sourced from crude oil, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%.

The field campaign was made possible by the £1.8m funding award from the Natural Environment Research Council.

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