FSU atmospheric scientist earns NOAA award to improve tropical forecast modeling

| Tue, 10/12/21
Allison Wing
Allison Wing, assistant professor in the FSU Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science.

A Florida State University researcher has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve the accuracy of tropical cyclone formation forecasting.

Allison Wing, assistant professor of meteorology in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, will use the three-year, $539,000 award to develop a new set of tools that identify tropical disturbances. These new diagnostics will focus on the physical processes associated with convection, moisture and radiation — factors that affect these disturbances and are thought to determine the likelihood they will develop into tropical cyclones.

“Understanding how tropical disturbances are represented in global climate models, and whether the models correctly distinguish between those that develop into tropical cyclones and those that do not, is essential for improving model simulation of tropical cyclone frequency,” Wing said. “By identifying sources of model error, this research will facilitate model improvements in the representation of tropical disturbances and tropical cyclones, advancing our weather forecasting and climate prediction capabilities.”

Tropical disturbances, such as African Easterly Waves, are important drivers of tropical weather but may also serve as precursors for tropical cyclones. Most recently, these types of waves were the genesis of Tropical Storm Fred and Hurricane Grace.

While much research and public attention has been focused on tropical storm forecasting and accuracy, far less has been devoted to how global climate models identify and represent the precursor tropical disturbances that ultimately lead to formation of tropical cyclones. Scientists are still exploring how interactions among convection, moisture and radiation affect the probability that a tropical disturbance will develop into a tropical cyclone.

“Our new diagnostics will be incorporated into the broader NOAA Model Diagnostics Task Force software, which will allow use by model developers at NOAA and elsewhere to improve the representation of tropical disturbances and tropical cyclones in global climate models,” Wing said. “In addition to improving models, this research will also improve our understanding of tropical disturbances and tropical cyclone formation.”

The Modeling, Analysis, Prediction, and Projection Program (MAPP) is a competitive research program in NOAA Research’s Climate Program Office. Its mission is to enhance NOAA’s capability to understand, predict and project variability and long-term changes in Earth’s system and mitigate human and economic impacts.

“NOAA’s MAPP Program supports foundational research for improving understanding and prediction capability of the Earth’s weather and climate,” said Vincent Salters, EOAS department chair. “Dr. Wing’s research under this award will study triggering mechanisms of tropical cyclogenesis by synoptic-scale convective organizations, one of the most important outstanding questions facing the hurricane modeling research community.”

In many ways, this new project is an outgrowth of a current NOAA-funded collaboration among Wing and co-principal investigators Daehyun Kim, from the University of Washington, and Suzana Camargo, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. The researchers will again join Wing in undertaking this new line of inquiry.

“In our present work, the research team developed and applied process-oriented diagnostics for tropical cyclones in global climate models designed to identify physical processes associated with good simulations of tropical cyclones so that we can identify sources of model biases and target areas for improvement,” Wing said. “The new project targets disturbances before they become a tropical cyclone.”

Identifying sources of model biases in the representation of tropical disturbances and the development of a subset of disturbances into tropical cyclones will spur improvement in climate modeling and help forecasters better predict what tropical disturbances are likely to develop into devastating hurricanes and those that will fizzle out.

Wing’s overall research focus is examining how tropical clouds and thunderstorms organize into clusters, including the formation of tropical cyclones. The focus on tropical cyclone precursors bridges her previous work on tropical convective organization and tropical cyclone development.

“EOAS has traditional strength in science related to tropical weather and climate,” Salters said. “Dr. Wing is continuing in this tradition and upholds FSU’s stellar reputation in this area. The award is a recognition that Dr. Wing’s research is at the forefront of her discipline.”

Learn more about NOAA’s MAPP Program and other collaborations with FSU online.

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