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Storm watchers: UAlbany, National Weather Service extend CSTAR partnership

Storm watchers: UAlbany, National Weather Service extend CSTAR partnership

Officials look to increase accuracy of forecasting

ALBANY -- Kristen Corbosiero prides herself in knowing that her UAlbany grad students do research that not only benefits them, but the community as a whole.

"Getting to see them grow and learn how to conduct research, and… protect life and property -- which is the whole mission of the [National] Weather Service --, it’s fantastic,” says Corbosiero, who serves as principal investigator for UAlbany’s Collaborative Science, Technology and Applied Research CSTAR partnership with the National Weather Service.

Corbosiero recently celebrated UAlbany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences program receiving another three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. This grant will continue UAlbany’s collaboration with the NWS for three more years, until 2022. This is the program’s seventh grant, with each running three years, and the third that Corbosiero will lead research for.

With the collaboration, scientists will work with forecasters to better their understanding of weather systems in the Northeast U.S., as forecasters don’t always have time to pursue their own scientific research. This, according to Corbosiero, allows researchers and forecasters to work together to improve forecasts.

Each grant has three projects attached to it, according to Corbosiero. Usually, two are associated with winter weather, while one focuses on summer weather. CSTAR has led projects looking into how to predict heavy snow bands and how thunderstorms are forecasted in the summer, both of which Corbosiero says are some of CSTAR’s biggest successes. Corbosiero has had first-hand experience with incorrect forecasts in the past. She remembers having grad students come down for a recruitment visit in March 2018, when the forecast was for minimal amounts of snow.

Albany ended up getting a foot of snow that morning.

School was cancelled, even after the recruits flew in, so Corbosiero refers to the event as the “poster child” for why understanding these events works to better prevent future situations.

With this summer’s grant, CSTAR is looking to see how the terrain around the Capital Region affects Albany’s weather. They’re looking at how terrain in the Catskills, Adirondacks and the Mohawk and Hudson river valleys affect summertime severe weather and wintertime precipitation (sleet, snow, rain). The third project for the grant will take advantage of the New York State Mesonet and using it’s observations to better understand New York’s weather.

The Mesonet, a 126 weather station network across NYS, is an early warning weather-detection system. Nick Bassill, scientist with the Mesonet and the Center of Excellence, is looking forward to the $30 million Mesonet to be introduced in the CSTAR program for the first time in the program’s 20-plus-year history.

After Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, and the loss of life and property that came with it, many realized that a large portion of the state’s weather was going unobserved. That’s when the Mesonet took shape in 2014.

“So that wasn’t a tool that was available to previous CSTAR proposals,” Bassill said.

“This was really the first one that we could submit to say, ‘Hey, we have this new, awesome data source, let’s use it to help solve our problems.’”

Now, with the tool, which is comprised of stations equally spaced around the state, forecasters can say with more certainty what the weather looks like in all parts of the state, not just the most populated parts.

“This CSTAR project will use this data source in addition to the other data sources we’ll be using,” Bassill said. “This will be the cherry on top.”

Brennan Stutsrim, a UAlbany student going into his first year of grad school, will be looking at how terrain plays a role in determining if a thunderstorm will happen or not. Stutsrim will be researching the problem and sharing his results with forecasters to help them for future situations.

Stutsrim conducted research last summer on Long Island, looking at the vertical profiles of the air quality by doing fieldwork with weather balloons. And for this upcoming research, he says he’s “very excited.”

He has seen some of his peers cited by the National Weather Service after their work with CSTAR, which to him is impressive.

With the CSTAR program, Corbosiero is happy to be giving grad students, many of which go on to work at the NWS, real-life experience and research opportunities.

“It shows how impactful their research is and how much their learning here, that they can contribute to the weather service’s mission,” Corbosiero said.

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