UK scientists to improve forecasting of extreme weather events

Super cell storm cloud

Scientists are working on ways to improve the forecasting of extreme weather events.

£11 million funding is being invested by the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), including the funding of five projects that will each investigate key scientific questions.

Extreme weather events include storms, floods, droughts and extreme temperatures. According to Met Office data, the number and severity of some types of extreme weather event are increasing, impacting our health, infrastructure and causing huge disruption.

Climate change is contributing to these increases, so the need for accurate weather forecasts and climate projections is only going to increase as the climate continues to change.

Extreme weather events

Weather and climate models are critically important to our ability to manage the impacts of hazardous weather, helping to inform decisions on adaptation to climate change and providing early warning of extreme weather events.

The five projects are led by scientists at the universities of Exeter, Leeds, Manchester, Reading and Imperial College London. They will focus on improving our understanding of air and cloud movements called atmospheric turbulence, caused by fluctuations of wind, temperature and humidity.

Improving forecasting

Specifically, they will improve understanding of turbulent processes, creating modelling in detail at a scale of kilometres (kms) and sub-kms.

Collectively the projects will:

  • carry out observations of atmospheric turbulence using radar, cameras, drones and aircraft measurements
  • study how atmospheric turbulence is represented in computer models
  • improve the physics and mathematics used in more detailed (higher resolution) computer models
  • study how to model the chaotic nature of atmospheric turbulence
  • improve the modelling of processes that produce thunderstorms and heavy rain

Climate change

These projects will link with the Met Office’s Wessex Convection Experiment (WesCon), which will collect observations of summer convection, a process that drives cloud formation and can produce heavy rainfall and thunderstorms.

Stephen Belcher, Chief of Science and Technology at the Met Office said:

As our climate changes and we see more frequent spells of severe weather, it is crucial that we constantly evolve and innovate to provide the most accurate forecasts and climate projections possible. Providing better forecasts that help the UK to build in resilience to our evolving climate is a priority for the Met Office.

The science of representing turbulence in our weather and climate models is a fundamental and exciting challenge, it is fantastic to form a partnership with NERC to make progress in this area.

Strengthening monitoring and modelling tools

Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said:

Extreme weather is becoming more common due to the effects of climate change. Predicting both the scale and location of these events is a key challenge as they increasingly impact lives, homes and infrastructure.

We are investing in programmes that improve our understanding of the atmospheric turbulence, so we can strengthen our monitoring and modelling tools.

Top image:  Credit: petesphotography, E+ via Getty Images

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