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How layout of urban areas affect supercell thunderstorms

Urban areas can have a tremendous impact on atmospheric conditions. Blue Waters Graduate Fellow Larissa Reames is working to understand how the shape of a city plays a role in extreme weather events.

Many things go into consideration when planning a city layout, roads, transportation needs, location relative to natural features. However, one thing has not previously been considered is the shape of the city and how that shape affects the severity of natural disasters, such as extreme thunderstorms or tornadoes.

With the help of Blue Waters at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Larissa Reames, a Ph.D student at the University of Oklahoma and a 2015-2016 NCSA Blue Waters Graduate Fellow, is undertaking exciting meteorology research on the effects of supercell thunderstorms and how the specific layout of a city can affect a storm’s impact.

As Earth’s population is increasingly migrating to larger cities and urban areas, understanding how urban areas interact with the atmosphere has become increasingly more important. While land-atmosphere interactions have been simulated before, they have been based primarily on large, dense areas, such as New York City, Tokyo, or Beijing. Reames has set out to research those cities typical of the Midwest – less dense and which entertain miles of sprawling suburbs.

Reames used the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, a mesoscale numerical weather prediction model, in order to simulate the urban-atmosphere interaction of supercell thunderstorms in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This simulation was run on the Blue Waters Supercomputer. In these simulations, Reames looked at the same city in many different locations relative to the storm.

From the preliminary results, Reames determined that city location relative to the storm did seem to make some difference in storm evolution and strength. Reames hopes to be able to receive more time on Blue Waters in order to better understand these effects. Moving forward, the research project would run the simulation on other cities, both real and idealized, in order to capture a better understanding of the storms and how to mitigate the effects of such detrimental natural events in the future, for the betterment of society and the world at large.

Watch this video to learn more about her research and the pivotal role Blue Waters plays in enabling this discovery for safer and more sustainable future development.

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