Using Web-Based SPoRT Data for On-Site Decision Support

WFO Huntsville meteorologists were on-site at an outdoor concert in Cullman, Alabama, this past weekend to provide on-site decision support to local emergency managers, first responders, and concert organizers. In this environment, the focus shifts from watching for severe thunderstorms to watching for ANY thunderstorms, as even weak storms can be hazardous to crowds with minimal shelter.

View of Heritage Park in Cullman from the NWS desk

View of Heritage Park in Cullman from the NWS desk

The change in environment can be a challenge for meteorologists used to using the integrated & streamlined AWIPS system–while a “field” version of AWIPS is available, often most meteorologists have to rely on all web-based weather data.  Fortunately, it was easy to integrate SPoRT data into the DSS process via the SPoRT website–specifically total lightning from the North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array, and GOES-R Convective Initiation.  GOES-R CI data are useful for anticipating convective development and potentially improving lead time (needed for moving concertgoers to shelter).

NALMA data (provided via a Google Earth web interface) are linked more directly to public safety.  While radar can indicate heavy downpours, hail, and potentially gusty winds, it does not directly indicate where lightning is occurring.  NWS forecasters may be accustomed to using National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) cloud-to-ground point data, but it is not available in the field in the same format.  Furthermore, total lightning data from the NALMA also provides a better idea of the spatial extent of lightning, and has sometimes shown an ability to provide some lead-time for cloud-to-ground strikes.  So NALMA data are of great interest to meteorologists providing decision support in the field.

NWS laptop with North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array data in the browser

NWS laptop with North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array data in the browser

Fortunately, concert organizers picked the two quietest weather days in June to hold their festivities!  There was little convective activity, and concertgoers were able to enjoy the music without giving thunderstorms a second thought.  But NWS meteorologists were well-prepared if hazardous weather would have threatened.

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