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Thunderstorm Researchers Hope for Hail, Lightning

PEG COUGHLINJuly 19, 1989

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ A day full of thunderstorms with plenty of hail and lightning means a good day at the office for Bruce Boe.

He and a team of 200 researchers from across the country are part of the North Dakota Thunderstorm Project, a $2.3 million effort that involves scientists and students from 12 universities, 10federal and state agencies and five private companies.

Their aim is to find ways to reduce hail and enhance rainfall, and also to learn more about the atmosphere around the storms.

″Actually, we’ve made tremendous progress,″ said Boe, director of the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board and one of the project organizers. ″There’s something you can learn from every cloud.″

″The bigger the better,″ added George Bershinsky, a weather researcher from the University of Wyoming. He pilots an airplane used for tracing and studying storms, cloud physics and air motion.

The thunderstorm project, which began June 12 and will end July 22, uses six airplanes along with a complex system of ground radar to study hail as well as the structure of storms - the processes that produce lightning and the role clouds play in the transport of gases like ozone and carbon monoxide through the atmosphere.

But in severe weather, the planes fly mainly during the day for safety, Boe said. ″We haven’t had as many really big thunderstorms as we would have liked at the hours we would have liked,″ he said.

Five graduate and 10 undergraduate students, whose training ranges from meteorology and physics to engineering and computer science, are using the project as a summer job. Their work is being financed by a special National Science Foundation program for students.

Seven of the students, representing universities from New York to Wyoming, are nicknamed ″hail chasers,″ because they are dispatched during storms to catch and measure hail.

Last week, when golf-ball size hail and a tornado were reported about 100 miles north of Bismarck, the hail chasers were sent out to collect samples. But they got a ribbing from their co-workers after they missed the severe weather and wound up in an area of only light rain.

″We’re still trying to get our great hail,″ said Brenda Pobanz, who just graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in meteorology.

Researchers from a number of countries with weather-management programs, including Greece, Jordan, Morocco and South Africa, have visited or are planning to visit the project to learn from the North Dakota experience, Boe said.

Of the 60 or 70 weather experiments conducted, about four dozen have been successful, Boe said.

The research team terms an experiment a success if ″the weather elements are there and the equipment works properly and measures what we want it to measure,″ he said.

The project is being financed primarily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Boe said Bismarck was selected as the site because his agency has been conducting weather research with NOAA for nearly a decade and has the facilities and expertise.

It may take several years to analyze all of the data accumulated during the project, said Boe, who hopes for a follow-up project.

″This project won’t answer all the questions about thunderstorms,″ he said.

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