UMC Links

Predicting Weather in the West

Nov. 13, 2006 – Damaging thunderstorms, dramatic temperature changes, microburst windstorms and some of America’s strongest cold fronts will be discussed Thursday, Nov. 16 during the 13th Annual Workshop on Weather Prediction in the Intermountain West.

Hosted by the University of Utah Department of Meteorology, the workshop will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chase N. Petersen Heritage Center just east of Fort Douglas. Parking is available by following signs to a parking area near the Fort Douglas Officer’s Club. See

News media are invited to cover the event and interview speakers.

“Figuring out what the weather is at any one time and place can be difficult in the West,” says John Horel, workshop organizer and a professor of meteorology at the University of Utah. “Weather conditions can change over small distances, and those small changes can affect our understanding of climate variability and change as well as many public safety applications of weather information.”

During the workshop, researchers will hear about weather events that are the most difficult to forecast, and forecasters will learn about “resources and tools currently under development by researchers that likely will be available in a few years,” Horel says.

Workshop registration runs from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m., with speakers from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. and again from 10:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. A poster session, in which studies are presented on bulletin boards, will be from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m. Here is a sampling of selected speakers, with Horel’s description of their topics:

  • 8:45 a.m., Randy Graham, National Weather Service, Salt Lake City, will discuss the events of Aug. 1, 2006, when a “severe bow echo” – two strong thunderstorm complexes with bow-shape forms – swept across the central and southern Wasatch Front during the morning hours, causing more than $13 million in damage as they moved through the heavily populated Salt Lake Valley and Provo.

  • 9:15 a.m., Jim Steenburgh, professor and chair of meteorology, University of Utah, speaks on strong Intermountain West cold fronts, which are some of the strongest in the nation, occasionally causing considerable damage. Understanding the structure and evolution of these storms is critical to improve their prediction.

  • 9:30 a.m., Alex Tardy, National Weather Service, Salt Lake City, will take a look at generalization in Utah meteorology. Utah precipitation is related closely to topography, with more precipitation in the mountains and less in the valley. Tardy will examine weather events that do not conform to the rule and highlight the need to occasionally think outside the established generalizations.

  • 11:30 a.m., Randy Julander, Utah Snow Survey supervisor, U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, will discuss how changes in vegetation influence estimates of snow amounts in the mountains.

In addition, these poster presentations are among those that begin at 9:45 a.m.:

  • Elford Astling, Dugway Proving Ground, on damaging windstorms known as microbursts. Weather stations at the U.S. Army’s West Desert Test Center at Dugway have been used to study microbursts. The poster focuses on July 2006, when more than 450 microbursts were recorded within Dugway Proving Ground.

  • Michael Cantin, National Weather Service, Pocatello, Idaho, on software named ROMAN, which was developed by the University of Utah to give forecasters greater awareness of weather conditions during the fire season, and to help initiate watch and warning statements.

  • Erik Crosman, University of Utah meteorology graduate student, compares precipitation amounts in selected areas of the West, with a focus on lowland versus mountain precipitation.

  • Colby Neuman, a University of Utah meteorology graduate student, on a so-called “Saints and Sinners Storm”\” that began in Nevada and moved over Utah, and how it displayed a rapid increase in intensity as the front moved across the Intermountain West, bringing hazardous weather to the Wasatch Front.

  • Brian Olsen, a University of Utah research associate and graduate student, and Horel review variations in the daily range of surface temperatures in the Intermountain West. Many locations experience tremendous changes in temperature from morning to afternoon – more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit – as a result of the arid climate. Mapping the distribution of such locations helps scientists understand their characteristics.

Horel says the workshop will highlight research and development underway at the University of Utah to collect weather information and disseminate it to the public, weather forecasters, and researchers. This effort – termed MesoWest by Horel’s team at the university – integrates weather observations collected at hundreds of stations in Utah and thousands of stations across the nation. Graphical displays are available over the Internet as soon as the data are collected.

The MesoWest data archives are a significant resource for researchers at the University of Utah and elsewhere to understand the structure and evolution of damaging weather events.

For complete details on the workshop, see:
Click on “2006 Workshop Schedule” for the full schedule.

Weather information from University of Utah MesoWest is at: