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Scientists look to cloud tops for faster severe-storm predictions

NOAA

(Read caption) NOAA's GOES satellite delivered this image of clouds over the continental US at 9:45 p.m. EDT on June 18. The infrared image allows forecasters to estimate temperatures for clouds, with the darkest colors representing cloud tops with the coldest temperatures. The coldest cloud tops typically are associated with severe thunderstorms. You can see that relationship by moving to the next image.

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Severe thunderstorms can be nasty beasts. Intense lightning, hail, high winds, torrential rain, and at worst, tornadoes top the list of severe storms' more, er, stimulating features.

Now, two scientists at the University of Wisconsin's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies say they have figured out a way to dramatically improve forecasters' ability to predict which seemingly run-of-the-mill storm cells are likely to go postal.

Essentially, they use infrared images from weather satellites to give forecasters as much as 45 minutes earlier notice that a severe thunderstorm is brewing than the forecasters currently can get if they only used radar or reports from storm spotters.

Tools like this would be valuable enough today as a way to help improve severe-weather warnings. Their value likely would increase as the country copes with global warming.

Earlier this week, the US Global Change Research Program released its latest assessment of global warming's recent and future effects on the country. An increase in extreme weather, including more intense downpours, are among the conditions the assessment's authors included.

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