Full-frontal assault on storms

March 7, 1997

WHILE most of Britain was huddled under brollies over the past few weeks, 100 meteorologists from ten countries were relishing the stormy weather.

The meteorologists, based for the past two months at Shannon in western Ireland, have been monitoring the development of storms over the Atlantic in a bid to improve weather forecasting.

Five years in the planning, the Fronts and Atlantic Storm Track Experiment (Fastex) had hoped to track up to ten fronts as they crossed the Atlantic to determine why some turned into storms and others fizzled out as they approached Europe.

But last month's blustery conditions were beyond their wildest dreams, leaving them with a wealth of data as 18 storms were monitored. January was remarkably calm, with a blocking anti-cyclone over the Atlantic. But February more than made up for it, said Alan Thorpe, of Reading University's Joint Centre for Mesoscale Meteorology.

After British meteorology's worst night in October 1987, the lack of weather data from the mid-Atlantic and the limitations of forecasting models became horribly apparent. This collaborative venture, supported by six research planes and four ships, is a bid to remedy the situation.

The meteorologists are particularly keen to determine the existence of predicted large geographic areas in which small changes in meteorological conditions have a huge, chaotic impact.

"We believe there are certain sensitive regions where if you don't have good observations, there is a big detriment when it comes to predicting storm development," Professor Thorpe said.

"These areas vary from day to day depending on the airflow. We have been predicting these areas over the last two months using chaos theory and have been taking measurements in them."

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