Hydrometeorology Observations and Processes

Lead: Allen White  |  CIRES Team Coordinator: Darren Jackson

Floods are one of the most common and potentially devastating natural disasters faced by communities – threatening lives and property, destroying crops, and causing health and environmental issues. Better forecasts of the weather conditions that can lead to flooding are essential for safety and planning purposes. However, for forecasts to be improved, there is still much to learn about the atmospheric processes that create extreme precipitation.

PSL's Hydrometeorology Observations and Processes Team addresses scientific problems related to the water cycle. Our goal is to improve predictions of precipitation and streamflow through better observations and increased knowledge of these important hydrometeorological phenomena. Our observations are used to enhance NOAA’s existing operational data and provide new insight into these processes.

We build and operate instruments for focused field programs that support research throughout the Earth System Research Laboratories and beyond. Some of our unique observational equipment include vertically pointing S-Band radars. One type of S-band radar gives a detailed look at the precipitating cloud system, to learn more about how precipitation initiates and how it is influenced by terrain. A second type of S-band radar was designed specifically to measure the altitude where snow changes into rain, an important factor for predicting streamflow in mountainous watersheds. Our engineers also have developed the first-of-its-kind integrated hydrometeorological observing network for the California Department of Water Resources, which is used for research and real-time monitoring of processes impacting precipitation and runoff. The success of this project is spawning observing system development in other parts of the country, as well.

Our research scientists use these unique observations in conjunction with other NOAA observing datasets, including those collected by satellite, to help unravel the mysteries of how the Earth system produces precipitation that leads to streamflow. The results of this work are used by stakeholders in NOAA and elsewhere to make informed decisions regarding weather and streamflow hazards that can upset commerce and ultimately impact the loss of life and property.

Current Research Activities

STUDYING the formulation of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs), and why these storms sometimes become extreme events that can cause dangerous floods. Factors such as pollution and terrain are also investigated to understand how they may influence the amount of rain and snow that falls during an AR.
DEVELOPING new observing technologies, such as our Snow-Level Radar, to fill gaps in NOAA’s operational observing network.
CREATING observation-based research tools, like the Coastal Atmospheric River Monitoring and Early Warning tool, to help evaluate forecast models and analysis products used by NOAA forecast offices.