Atmospheric science students prepare to launch a sounding during the SEMPE field program.
My research interests focus on mesoscale and synoptic weather unique to western North Carolina by using computer weather forecast models to help improve our understanding of and ability to forecast these events. Examples of these types of events are summertime convection and associated rainfall, the interaction of tropical systems with the local mountains, wintertime mixed precipitation events, and northwest flow snowfall events. The challenge in using a computer weather forecast model is to know when to trust what it's telling us about the evolution and structure of the atmosphere. Observations are often useful as a tool to help know whether or not to trust the computer weather forecast model. Unfortunately, observations are often too sparse in location or in time to help assess issues related to mesoscale weather events.
In order to help with the scarcity of data in western North Carolina, a modest field program known as the Sounding-based Experiment on Mixed Precipitation Events (SEMPE) took place recently. SEMPE is devoted to making special weather balloon soundings during weather events that can have snow, sleet, freezing rain, and/or rain fall during passage of the event. A team of students made the balloon launches, recorded the sounding data, and posted the information on a webpage in real-time to allow operational National Weather Service forecasters access to information not normally available in this part of North Carolina. The hope is that the observations will improve our understanding of what happens in three dimensions as these mixed precipitation events pass through western North Carolina. The observations gathered during SEMPE will serve as a valuable database for training current and future National Weather Service forecasters with regards to wintertime mixed precipitation events.