National Severe Storms Laboratory

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National Severe Storms Laboratory
National Weather Center 6-20-2006 3-48-27 PM.jpg
National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma. The National Severe Storms Laboratory moved into this building in 2006
Agency overview
Formed 1964
Preceding Agency National Severe Storms Project and Weather Radar Laboratory
Type Meteorology research
Headquarters Norman, Oklahoma
35°10′53″N 97°26′25″W / 35.18139°N 97.44028°W / 35.18139; -97.44028
Parent department United States Department of Commerce
Parent agency National Centers for Environmental Prediction

The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather research laboratory located at the National Weather Center (NWC) in Norman, Oklahoma.[1] NSSL investigates all aspects of severe weather to improve severe weather warnings and forecasts in order to save lives and reduce property damage. Research areas include weather radar, automated algorithm detection tools for use with weather radar, and basic tornado research to understand how tornadoes form.

It is one of seven NOAA Research Laboratories (RLs).[2]

NSSL scientists developed the first Doppler weather radar, and have since contributed to the development of NEXRAD (WSR-88D), as well as research mobile radar systems.

NSSL also works with the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) to help verify and improve severe weather forecasting. It also has a partnership with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) at the University of Oklahoma that enables collaboration and participation by students and visiting scientists in performing research.[1]


NSSL's first Doppler weather radar located in Norman, Oklahoma. 1970s research using this radar led to NWS NEXRAD WSR-88D radar network.
The first tornado captured on May 24, 1973, by the NSSL Doppler weather radar and NSSL chase personnel. The tornado is here in its early stage of formation near Union City, Oklahoma


In 1962 a research team from the United States Weather Bureau's National Severe Storms Project (NSSP) moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Norman, Oklahoma, where the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory had installed a 3 cm continuous-wave Doppler Weather Surveillance Radar-1957 (WSR-57) in 1956. This radar was designed to detect very high wind speeds in tornadoes, but could not determine the distance to the tornadoes. The Weather Radar Laboratory (WRL) was established in Norman in 1963. In 1964 NSSL engineers modified this radar to transmit in pulses. The pulse-Doppler radar could receive data in between each transmit pulse, eliminating the need for two antennas and solving the distance problem.[3]

In 1964 the rest of the NSSP moved to Norman, where it was reorganized and renamed as the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), to which the WRL also merged. Dr. Edwin Kessler became the first director.[3] In 1969 NSSL obtained a surplus 10-cm pulse-Doppler radar from the United States Air Force. It was used in 1973 to scan and film the complete life cycle of a tornado. By comparing the film with velocity images from the radar, the researchers found a pattern that showed the tornado beginning to form before it could be visually detected on the film. The researchers named this phenomenon the Tornado Vortex Signature (TVS).[3] 1970s research using this radar led to NWS NEXRAD WSR-88D radar network.

In 1974 the laboratory commissioned a second Doppler weather radar, named the Cimarron radar, located 15 miles (24 km) west of Oklahoma City. This enabled NSSL to perform dual Doppler experiments while scanning storms with both radars simultaneously.[3]

A deliberate decision to collocate research with operations caused the National Severe Storms Forecast Center to move from Kansas City to Norman in 1997. It changed its name to the Storm Prediction Center at the same time.[3]

In 2000 NSSL was funded to build the National Weather Radar Testbed (NWRT) facility. It is located in Norman and designed to develop and test phased array radar technology. Phased array radar is five times faster than current radars and can scan the sky in less than a minute.[3]

In 2006 NSSL moved into the new National Weather Center, 6 miles (9.7 km) south of its previous location.[3]


NSSL's former research & development laboratory, located in Norman, Oklahoma. Photo taken about 1970.

NSSL is organized into three primary divisions:

  • Forecast Research & Development Division
  • Radar Research & Development Division
  • Warning Research & Development Division

NOAA named Steven Koch as Director of NSSL in February 2011.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory. About NSSL. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
  2. ^ "NOAA Research Laboratories". NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "National Severe Storms Laboratory NSSL History"
  4. ^ "New Director at National Severe Storms Laboratory." February 15, 2011. Retrieved April 30, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

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