Closer to understanding severe storms

MORE accurately forecasting and warning of impending severe storm events such as 2011 Toowoomba “inland tsunami” are now a step closer thanks to an Australian Research Council Linkage grant.

The grant will fund research by the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) Professor Roger Stone and Dr Shahbaz Mushtaq in close collaboration with Monash University’s Dr Stephen Seims who is the CEO of the project. The Suncorp Group has provided strong support for this project.

Professor Stone said the central objective of the research would be to employ a wide range of field observations to better understand the physical processes, synoptic environment and climatology of severe storms and precipitation events across heavily populated regions of Australia.

“We’ll then use these finding to evaluate and improve numerical and computer simulations of such storms, which will improve our ability to forecast and respond to these types of weather events,” Professor Stone said.

He said severe storms are one of the most poorly understood natural hazards in Australia, even though there is a long history of these events causing the profound loss of life and property.

“The storms of southeast Queensland during the summer of 2010-2011 included flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley that claimed more than 20 lives and the overflow at Wivenhoe Dam led to widespread flooding in Brisbane with the economic damage having been estimated to be in excess of $10 billion.

“This research will lead to an improved physical understanding of severe storms over major Australian cities, which in turn will lead to the ability to more accurately forecast and warn people about these weather events.”

Professor Stone said the first phase of the project will develop an objective radar-based climatology of severe storms using the Bureau of Meteorology’s network of Doppler radars.

“We will then extend the analysis of these severe storms to their synoptic-scale precursors and undertake numerical simulations employing the radar observations, as well as other available observations as a means of evaluation.

“This analysis will assess the ability of simulations to accurately predict the location, timing and intensity of severe storms in major metropolitan areas.

“We’ll then explore the sensitivity of these simulations to the physical parameters with the intent of improving their skill.

“A further objective is to employ a wide range of field observations (insitu cloud microphysics, weather radar, the dual-polarised (CP2) research radar, ground-based and satellite-based) available from the Queensland Cloud Seeding Research Program, the Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere to better understand the nature of the interaction between precipitation and cloud microphysics.”

CAPTION: Lightening strikes during a severe storm in western Queensland. Photo: W. C. SCOTT.
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