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Urban Meteorology

Urban Meteorology

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Published by: earthandlife on May 10, 2012
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06/21/2013

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C
ities, with their many large buildings of 
varying heights, heavy trafc, and pavedstreets and parking areas, can createtheir own distinct local weather. For example,cities experience what is known as the urbanheat island effect, where the storage of heat by buildings and paved areas can result in night
-
time surface temperatures up to 10° C abovethose of surrounding rural areas (Figure 1). The paved surfaces, trafc, and high buildings incities can also lead to urban ooding events,changes in local precipitation patterns, elevatedconcentrations of gaseous pollutants and aero
-
sols, and the channeling of wind between buildings. The high density of people and their dependence on infrastructure makes urbanareas especially vulnerable to the impacts of weather events like severe thunderstorms, heatand cold waves, and winter storms with heavyice and snow, which can disrupt trafc and thesupply of electricity.Over the past decades, the eld of urbanmeteorology has grown from simple observa
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tions and forecasts of the general weather for metropolitan areas to scientic and technologicaladvances that allow predictions of a wide set of environmental parameters such as temperature,aerosol concentration, and precipitation withrelatively precise timing and location. As thesecapabilities have improved, the uses for urbanweather information and its value to emergencymanagers, city planners, national securityofcials, and other users have increased. Despitethese advances, many users’ needs in terms of  precision in timing or location, timely access, ospecic variables are currently not sufciently
Although all weather is driven by large scale weather patterns, the characteristics of urbansettings—such as buildings of varying heights and large areas of paved streets and parking
lots—can generate a unique urban weather environment. Given that three out of ve people
worldwide are expected to live in an urban environment by 2030, accurately forecasting urbanweather is becoming increasingly important to protect these densely-populated areas from theimpacts of adverse weather events. Currently, the diverse needs of users of meteorological datain the urban setting, such as emergency managers and urban planners, are not being well met
by the scientic community, mainly because of limited communication between the two
communities. A clear mechanism to help the urban meteorological community better identifyuser groups, reach out to them, and maintain an ongoing dialogue would lead to better urbanweather forecasting and planning in the future.
Urban Meteorology: Forecasting,Monitoring, and Meeting End Users’ Needs
Figure 1.
The urban heat-island effect. Thermalimaging (red and orange map, bottom) shows theexcess heat in the most urban areas of Atlanta,Georgia (shown as a optical image on top).
Source: NASA images by Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, based on Landsat-7 data.
 
 being met. This National Research Council report
assesses what is needed to better meet end user needs
and describes current and emerging urban meteoro
-
logical forecasting and monitoring capabilities.
End User Needs
The end users of urban meteorological data include power producers, municipal ofcials, insurancecompanies, and public health ofcials and cover a vastspectrum of job roles, goals, needs, experience, andunderstanding (Box 1). They need high quality infor 
-mation about different weather events in a wide
variety of formats, and within time constraints set bytheir decision processes. Acknowledging and under 
-
standing these varied user needs is important for theurban meteorological community, which is sometimesunaware of the precise data and information needs of various user groups. If useful meteorological data arenot provided, some groups of users might start gener 
-
ating their own data streams, not necessarilyfollowing best practices in data collection, analysis, or interpretation, which could lead to redundant or inconsistent information.
Advances in Urban Meteorology
Despite advances in the eld of urban meteorologyover the past few decades, weather observations andforecasting in cities remains complex because of the high spatial variability, the unique physicalcharacteristics of the urban environment, and thevaried impacts of urban environments on meteoro
-
logical processes.
Advances in Urban Observations
Advancements related to aircraft and satellite remotesensing have been useful in assessing the extent and
magnitude of the urban heat island, identifying urbanrain- and snowfall anomalies, and determining air 
quality. Remote-sensing has also helped to properlycharacterize urban land cover and morphology, aero
-
sols, and hydrometeorological parameters. Urbanobservational networks with multiple sensors per cityhave been deployed in several locations, improvingurban weather forecasts. To further improve forecasts,a three-dimensional picture of the urban atmosphereis needed, which requires the integration of localmeasurements with remote-sensing data.
Advances in Urban Modeling
Using new techniques, some numerical weather  prediction models now include explicit urban treat
-
ments. The methods used to “urbanize” weather models range from urban parameterizations incoarser resolution models to the actual simulation of the simplied urban environment in high-resolutionmodels. Advances in atmospheric dispersion andurban air quality models provide better support for decision-makers, with several approaches availablefor neighborhood to street-scale dispersion modeling(Figure 2). These models are particularly useful toemergency managers, for example to provide fast andreliable predictions of the movement of plumes of toxic airborne contaminants in the event of an acci
-
dental or terrorist release. Hydrology models havealso been improved for urban environments byadding the characteristics of urban surfaces such asroads and sidewalks that modify surface runoff andevaporation. Given that the majority of the U.S. population lives within coastal counties, predictingooding due to coastal storm surges is increasinglyimportant. Recent advances in storm surge modelsare beginning to address these needs by including population, land cover, elevation, meteorological,and oceanographic datasets in their simulations.
Emerging Technologies
Several emerging technologies in urban meteorolog
-
ical monitoring and forecasting have the potential toimprove urban data products. An example is the useof nontraditional sensor networks, specically
 Box 1. Who Uses Urban Meteorological Data?
Urban meteorological data is used by a variety of agenciesand companies. Often, however, the data available do notsatisfy user needs in terms of precision of timing andlocation, timely access to data, or the exact variables theyare interested in. Examples of users of urbanmeteorological data are:
Power producers
, who use meteorological data onurban scales to estimate peak demands (e.g., due toheat or cold waves) and adjust energy production
Municipal ofcials,
who use meteorological data for many purposes, among them to plan the capacity of combined storm and sewage systems, avoid thechanneling of winds in new developments, to monitor urban air quality, and develop adaptation strategiesthrough zoning changes
Insurance and reinsurance companies,
who use thedata to set their rates based on estimates of the
 probability of damages from extreme weather eventslike thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and oods
Public health ofcials,
who use the data for timely
warnings and preparation for all kinds of extremeweather events, e.g., heat waves, storms, and air quality.
 
integrating data sets from
various monitoring networksinto central data archives thatcan be easily accessed by the broader science and end user communities.
2. Regularly updated metadataof the urban observationsusing standardized urbanprotocols
Observational data have
maximum value only if they areaccompanied by comprehensive
metadata —information about the
data that helps facilitate its under 
-
standing and use. Without detailed
metadata, observational data over 
varied urban areas can be easilymisunderstood and misused. Giventhe quickly changing nature of urban areas, the site selection,quality assurance, and manage
-ment of instruments and metadata
are crucial.
3. Continued and expanded international urbanmodel intercomparisons over urban areas
To discover major model deciencies modelintercomparison projects are helpful – in these inter 
-
comparison projects several different models are runwith the same or very similar setup to identify whichtechniques yield the best results and to identify modeldeciencies in some or all models. Given that modelintercomparisons can show how to improve urbanmodels, continued and expanded international urbanmodel intercomparisons for different urban types (e.g.,coastal, mountainous, tropical, etc.) in developed anddeveloping countries are needed.
4. Development and application of best practicesto strengthen the dialog between meteorologistsand end user communities
Effective communication between urban meteo
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rologists and end users is a challenge. To improvecommunications, it is important for meteorologists to better understand how individuals and organizationsinterpret forecast information and integrate it withother inputs, such as socioeconomic, political, andcultural factors, in decision-making processes. At thesame time, it is just as important for end users to
 better understand how observational data and models
generate forecasts and associated uncertainties. Tomeasurements by mobile vehicles and the use of socialnetworking technologies and text messages for thereporting of events or alerts. Emerging advances inmodeling include the explicit use of land-use data inurban weather models and the application of probabi
-
listic forecasting techniques to urban environments.
Future Needs and Challenges
To further advance the eld of urban meteorology,there are short-term needs and longer-term challenges.Short-term needs can be addressed with relativelysmall investments while long-term challenges requirelarger investments.
 Short Term Needs
1. Maximum access to observational data indifferent categories from diverse sources
Many end users would like observational data withmore precision in timing and location. Although someof these data already exist, gaining access to them isoften difcult. Data access can be maximized by:
securing access to existing data sets from previous urban campaigns,
assuring that long-term monitoring networks
will serve needs of both the global and urban
climate communities, and
Figure 2.
Simulation of a contaminant cloud in Chicago.
 
Urban models like theFAST3DCT can simulate how a contaminant cloud moves within a city withstreet-level resolution. This image shows an overhead view of the contaminantconcentrations over the Chicago River 468 seconds after its release.
Source: Patnaik, G., J. P. Boris, F. F. Grinstein, and J. P. Iselin. 2005. “Large scale urbansimulations with FCT.” Pp. 105-130 in
 Flux-Corrected Transport.
D. Kuzmin, R. Löhner,and S. Turek, editors. Berlin: Springer Verlag, doi:10.1007/3-540-27206-2_4.

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