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Researcher hopes to be able to forecast severe weather a month in advance

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Can meteorologists forecast a higher chance of tornadoes or hail a month in advance?

Victor Gensini is a professor at Northern Illinois University and is in the middle of a research project that hopes to do just that.

“For springtime forecasting, we start looking at severe weather, it is a little bit harder, because we have a lot of ingredients that go into severe weather forecasting, as you are well aware,” Gensini said. “We have to look for things like instability, moisture, vertical wind shear, and so the puzzle in some ways is a little bit harder that it is in the wintertime.”

Much of the winter weather season forecasting relies on El Nino or La Nina. This newer research uses those also, but tries to pinpoint what will happen with one major atmospheric pattern, the jet stream.

Gensini says that trying to forecast the jet stream pattern in the Pacific Ocean holds the clue to our severe weather potential. If the pattern is long and flat, severe weather potential is low. If the jet stream pattern is wavy, and shorter, that creates a more unstable atmosphere as it moves into the U.S., and that results in a higher severe weather threat.

“Some of our recent research has shown that these drivers in the jet stream are actually highly linked to above-normal or below-normal likelihood of hail events, and also tornadoes, especially in portions of the Midwest and southern United States,” Gensini said.

The Storm Prediction Center issues severe weather threat assessments out to about a week. Gensini said he hopes his research can look further into the future.

“The ultimate end goal would be something like a three- or four-week … just like you see from the CPC, the Climate Prediction Center, issues a temperature outlook, for example, we could be giving you an outlook for extreme weather at least for tornadoes and hail,” Gensini said.

So, does Gensini have any clues if we could see an active severe weather season here in central Indiana?

“We’ll start to look at sea surface temperatures, we will look at jet stream patterns and structures on March 1, and then we will start to get an idea of whether or not we’re looking at the potential for an above-average or, maybe an average or perhaps below-average severe weather season,” Gensini said.