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OU researchers receive $1.8 million NSF grant to predict heavy rainfall events

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A University of Oklahoma research team led by Elinor Martin, OU meteorology professor, has been awarded a five-year, $1.8 million National Science Foundation grant to better predict heavy rainfall events in the United States. This project, one of 15 awarded as part of the NSF Prediction of and Resilience Against Extreme Events program, will result in a greater understanding of these events that occur over multiple days and weeks, such as recent flooding in Texas. This research should improve forecasting and increase communication between researchers, forecasters and all related stakeholders.

"The importance of this research could not be more timely. Professor Martin has assembled an extraordinary team, and they will produce transformational research that will be important to the country and the planet," said Berrien Moore, dean of the OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences and director of the National Weather Center. "Just in the past month, heavy precipitation from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have devastated parts of the United States."

Martin's team includes Jason Furtado, Michael Richman, Cameron Homeyer and Jeff Basara, OU meteorology professors; and Renee McPherson, OU geography and environmental sustainability professor and co-director of the South Central Climate Science Center with the Center's Esther Mullens and Derek Rosendahl; Harold Brooks, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory; and Ashton Robinson-Cook, NOAA Storm Prediction Center; and Heather Lazrus, National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The team will apply statistical and artificial intelligence methods to identify characteristics of heavy rainfall events, connect them to large-scale weather patterns and work with decision-makers to develop useable tools to predict such events, which will include the development of models that have the potential to reduce deaths, injuries and damages caused by heavy rainfall and resulting flooding as well as ensure that science is useable by federal, tribal and local stakeholders.

"This project was driven by our need to improve societal resilience to extended periods of heavy rainfall across the U.S. through increasing our understanding and improving their prediction. Forecasts of these events currently have poor skill and, thus, adequate tools for prediction do not exist. Examples of events include the recent unprecedented rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey and the extreme rainfall seen in Oklahoma and Texas in May 2015, making this research timely and important. These extended heavy rainfall events can have large societal impacts across a variety of sectors. Through this five-year project, the team will advance our scientific understanding of these events while working directly with operational meteorologists and community stakeholders to improve resilience," said Martin.

The unique team, with expertise including severe storms, radar meteorology, climate science, statistical methods and human behavior will identify and understand the fundamental weather and climate processes tied to two-week to three-month extreme precipitation events in ways not previously done before. The team plans to extend its research to other timescales, other types of extremes and other regions of the globe after the project ends. The datasets and tools used in this project will be stored on a new data storage system, which will be available to undergraduate and graduate students for education and research use.

The South Central Climate Science Center at OU was responsible for the creation of the Severe Weather and Climate Change Working Group that developed the proposal that was awarded. During the proposal development process, the center engaged a network of stakeholders across the nation to participate in the development of future tools and forecast products. As part of this project, the center will host three workshops with the research team who will listen to the needs of local to regional decision makers about how they could apply these new predictions. These dedicated stakeholder workshops will lead to actionable information and prediction improvement to increase community resilience across the nation.

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For more information about this research, contact Elinor Martin at [email protected] This research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Award No. 1663840. The project period is August 1, 2017 to July 31, 2022.

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