Extreme weather phenomenon focus of MU-Russia partnership

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | 5:47 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — An MU atmospheric scientist continues to explore a weather phenomenon that contributed to some of the harshest weather during the past winter in Missouri.

Anthony Lupo, professor and chairman of the Department of Soil Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences in the School of Natural Resources, has been researching stagnant weather patterns known as "atmospheric blocking" for 20 years.

This past winter, the blocking pattern pushed cold air from the Arctic into the mid-latitudes, Lupo said.

“That's what kept our region under cold flow and allowed the jet stream to carry a lot of snowstorms,” he said.

Atmospheric blocking occurs when high pressure systems persist over the same area for days or even weeks.

The phenomenon “is not studied very often and is poorly understood," Lupo said, even though the events are large in scale. "They are very difficult to forecast, and when they do occur they can last a long time.”

Lupo is partnering with scientists from the A.M. Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric Physics of Russian Academy of Sciences for his latest research with $104,000 from the Russian Federation of Basic Research.

"We really don't know all of the mechanisms for why atmospheric blocks develop," Jon Gottschalck, head of forecast operations at the Climate Prediction Center, said in an email. "This is an ongoing research issue."

The phenomenon can lead to extreme weather events such as droughts and floods that have agricultural, social and economic repercussions.

“If they occur in bunches like they did during July 2010 over Russia, the results can be very strong dry conditions,” Lupo said. The consequences in Russia were deadly forest fires and air pollution.

Atmospheric blocking is increasing in frequency, Lupo said.

"I don't have a good sense yet as to whether it may be related to climate change or just better observing practices," he said. "I have a feeling that it may be related to our observing practices.”

Planning for the research will begin in October when Lupo travels to Russia to meet with his partners. The scientists will focus on atmospheric blocking in the Northern Hemisphere.

Lupo won the Missouri Academy of Science Most Distinguished Scientist Award in April 2009 and in May 2010 received the MU Professor of the Year Award.

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