The change in weather forecasting through the years is dramatic. The combination of technology and experience is the only way to get ahead. It’s a reality those in the field are very much aware of.
“If you look back in the history of meteorology you will find that meteorology has always been at the forefront of technology,” Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Dr. Mel Goldstein said.
And like many meteorologists the thirst for knowledge is ingrained in their work ethic. More than 40 years ago Dr. Mel, while studying as a grad student at NYU, got an idea.
“How about I work on a project of tornadoes that are related to hurricanes and take a look at the factors that contribute to these tornadoes. And sure enough this whole concept of DAX came into being.”
DAX is short for Differential Advection Index. It tracks warm, moist air traveling through low levels of the atmosphere, as well as cold dry air in the upper levels. Combined they create an index.
It’s proved helpful over the years, changing as much as the weather does.
“Originally it was meant to be for hurricanes,” Dr. Mel said, “and then it was expanded to include tornadoes.”
And then morphed into a broader system — that of the storm predictor. It’s name delivers the same message for viewers.
“What it is is an index that focuses in absolutely on the likelihood of the weather absolutely going wild.”
And the weather did go wild on October 3rd, 1979. It was a moment in Connecticut history that Dr. Mel remembers clearly. At the time he was teaching at Western Connecticut State University.
“I was with my students that morning and we worked up this index — this was 1979 — and I couldn’t believe how high the number turned up to be.”
Troubled, he went to the phone.
“I called my friend who was head of the civil preparedness and I said ‘Peter, I think we are in for some granddaddy of a storm this afternoon. It could be, hate to say it, a tornado’.”
Back and forth the phone calls went.
“And I called again and said ‘Peter, it doesn’t look good’. But he said ‘I called the National Weather Service and they don’t see anything’.”
But Dr. Mel was on to something.
“And while he was talking on the phone and he said ‘Doc Goldstein says…’ — the phone went dead. The tornado hit Windsor Locks.”
That F4 twister killed three people and injured hundreds when it tore through the towns of Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield, causing more than $450 million in damage.
But the storm predictor’s abilities go beyond that of tracking tornadoes.
“We began to experiment with winter storms, particularly the last two years, and got some real interesting results.”
And some golden opportunities in a winter that set records clear across the state of Connecticut.
“The big snowstorms back in January; looking at what I call DAX values, storm predictive values, and they were close to the top for those particular storms.”
But technology is useless if you don’t have the experience to use it.
“I call it a lure it lures you in to an easy forecast because everything is printed out for you,” Dr Mel said.
“We need to be able to come up with mental analogues. We need to be able to think, we need to use interpretation, we need to think. We have to look out the window.”
The weather has more variables than there are equations to solve them, making weather a difficult force to pin down.
“But it doesn’t stop us from tweaking and trying to prefect what we have a little bit better and this is really the concept behind our severe storm predictor.”
Although exclusive to WTNH, Dr. Mel has high hopes for this unique creation.
“It’s the most satisfying thing that I’ve ever done,” he said. “What’s more satisfying is the fact that people are going to be able to use it. What good is it if it is never used?”
The DAX system is an impressive piece of equipment that has proven vital for our meteorologists. But there are other tools that are just as important. Next, a look at the technology that sets us apart from the rest.