Plymouth State University and NOAA Study West Coast Winter Storms: Team develops forecast tools to improve weather forecasts

March 3rd, 2015 by blyndes
PSU Assistant Professor of Meteorology Jason Cordeira ’05,with a research aircraft used in his CalWater 2015 research.

PSU Assistant Professor of Meteorology Jason Cordeira ’05, with an aircraft used in his CalWater 2015 research.

Plymouth, N.H.– Nearly half of the annual rain across the West Coast falls during heavy stretches of precipitation in wintertime. Ribbons of deep moisture and strong winds within these storms, called atmospheric rivers, take aim along the coastal and interior mountains of Washington, Oregon and California and can cause public safety hazards such as floods and mudslides.

A team of PSU graduate students and Assistant Professor of Meteorology Jason Cordeira ’05 are playing a key role in helping researchers understand how atmospheric rivers form, how they move and how to improve weather forecasts of atmospheric rivers to minimize the threat to West Coast residents.

After graduating from Plymouth State University with a bachelor’s in meteorology, Cordeira began work on atmospheric rivers with the Water Cycle Branch of the Earth Systems Research Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, CO. He returned to his alma mater in 2013 to teach, and shortly thereafter received grant funding from NOAA and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, to continue his research.

Since then, Cordeira has presented at workshops, national conferences and participated in two field projects. His most recent research effort, CalWater 2015, started in January and is a multi-agency effort to seek a better understanding of how West Coast water supplies are impacted by extreme precipitation caused by atmospheric rivers. The project includes the use of four aircraft, one research vessel and a suite of overland instrumentation that comprises the NOAA Hydrometeorological Testbed across California.

Cordeira, the lead weather forecaster for the CalWater 2015 campaign, developed a suite of forecast tools to better anticipate atmospheric river conditions over the eastern North Pacific. The campaign goals were twofold: to support operational activities and flight-planning activities and to advise on water supply and water resource management issues impacted by atmospheric rivers along the West Coast.

PSU graduate students Brian Kawzenuk ’14G and Klint Skelly ’15G were invited to participate in the field campaign. Beginning at 4 a.m. each day, the PSU team prepared detailed weather forecasts for the research group, providing critical data to the National Weather Service, NOAA scientists and other researchers.

Both Skelly and Kawzenuk said the work was great experience for their applied meteorology graduate research.

Kawzenuk’s master’s thesis focused on the impact atmospheric rivers had during last year’s extreme precipitation over California, including their temporary relief of chronic drought conditions. “CalWater gave me a chance to extend the knowledge I gained during my thesis work and apply it toward real-time operational forecasting,” Kawzenuk noted. “I learned how to collaborate with researchers from different disciplines to work toward a common goal.”

“Forecasting for the project gave me a great look into what real-world data collecting feels like,” said Skelly. “Working with a team of professional scientists and collecting data was extremely rewarding.” Skelly’s thesis research will focus on the role of atmospheric rivers in watershed-by-watershed streamflow and flooding events across California.

“The partnership between PSU, Scripps, and NOAA has led to great opportunities for student research projects and has also benefited the scientific community,” Cordeira said. “The suite of forecast tools developed for CalWater are also being actively used by the National Weather Service in their forecast process along the West Coast.”

For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or