A descriptive survey of meteorological observing systems in Mississippi (1).
1. INTRODUCTION AND OBJECTIVES
Meteorological data are valuable to a wide variety of scientific disciplines and related applications. However, lack of awareness among potential users in academia, government, agriculture, and industry of the various data sources and their relative merits is often an obstacle to full and appropriate utilization of these resources. The purpose of this document is to provide an exhaustive survey and description of meteorological data sources within Mississippi, including procedures for data access. Much of the impetus for providing such documentation to a general audience came from a workshop held at Jackson State University on Oct. 29-30, 2002, to discuss the possibility of building a new state-level "mesonet" of automated meteorological observing stations that would vastly improve the spatial and temporal availability of surface weather data (White, 2002; Alonso et al., 2003). Although there have been meaningful steps taken toward that goal, the intent of this paper is to serve as a benchmark of what data are currently available within the state.
The data sources vary in their use of metric or English units, and in terms of timekeeping conventions. These issues will be addressed only in general terms for each observing system. Meteorologists most commonly use UTC time (Universal Time Coordinate; also known as "Z" or "Zulu" time), i.e. the standard time at Greenwich, England (0[degrees] longitude). However, some observing networks in Mississippi report in terms of Central Standard Time, usually without changing to Daylight Saving Time (DST) during the warm season. Central Standard Time is six hours earlier than UTC, and Central DST is five hour earlier.
2. SURFACE OBSERVING SYSTEMS
For purposes of this survey, we will define surface observing systems to be those systems of sensors which are primarily used to describe the state of the atmosphere within 100 m of the earth's surface, as well as related sensors to describe temporal variations in the surface itself. These data are most commonly of interest to a typical user, and are usually the most easily accessible. Emphasis will be given to permanent sites that typically record data at least once per hour. The availability of such data within at most one hour of the observation time will be referred to as "real-time" access.
2.1 ASOS/AWOS systems. The most widely distributed real-time data are those observed by the system of automated weather stations operated jointly by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal aviation Administration (FAA). Typically these sites are located at airports and have their strongest mandate for aviation safety requirements during take-off and landing (http://www.faa.gov/asos). The Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) takes observations every minute, twenty-four hours a day (U.S. EPA, 1997). The current one-minute data are normally only available via dedicated phone line or through VHF radio. The routinely available (and archived) data are transmitted at least once per hour. The standardized hourly observation (referred to as "synoptic") normally occurs during the ten minutes before the top of the hour, and is transmitted through the Global Telecommunications System (GTS) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for use by NWS and other users. These are the data reports most often referred to in the news media. Under certain circumstances data may be provided more than once per hour, either due to significant changes in weather at the station (e.g. wind shifts or beginning of rain) or at the discretion of the local airport operations. These "special" reports are also transmitted through GTS, but are not as routinely accessed due to their temporal inconsistency.
A similar type of observing system, known as the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), is basically the predecessor to ASOS (Harder and Dunlap, 1999). AWOS has been replaced at most commercial airports by ASOS since 1992. But there are still AWOS systems operating at some smaller airports. In most respects the differences will not be noticeable to the casual user. However, there are some AWOS sites that do not supply data through GTS, significantly limiting data access.
Manual observing sites report through GTS in the same format as ASOS/AWOS, with similar procedures. Practically all manual sites have been replaced by automated systems. The most important distinction for most users is that manual sites do not generally report 24 hours a day. The three remaining "manual" sites in Mississippi are all at military installations. Automated instrumentation is actually on-site, but the sensors differ from NWS equipment and observations are only reported when a human being is on duty since they are manually entered for transmission.
The data for both synoptic and special observations are normally provided in "METAR" format. This compact text format reports all observed parameters (which may vary slightly according to location) along with various automated or manually entered remarks (e.g. thunderstorms visible to the southwest). The authoritative description of how to read a METAR report is the Federal Meteorological Handbook "FMH-1" (OFCM, 1998), which may be accessed at http://www.ofcm.gov/fmh-1/pdf/ch12a.pdf or at http://metar.noaa.gov. Various tutorials on METAR may be found by searching the World Wide Web. For many users, there is no need to deal with actual METAR reports since many websites provide decoded observations. Only the most routine elements of an observation are typically decoded however.
A synoptic METAR report will normally include: station identification, UTC time, wind at 10 m above the ground, visibility, "present weather", temperature and dewpoint at 2 m, sea level pressure, cloud cover amount, cloud base heights, and precipitation. A typical ASOS site is shown in Fig. 1. Unfortunately the mixture of English and metric units in the U.S. version of METAR can lead to confusion. Operational limitations of ASOS preclude visibility being reported beyond 10 statute miles or clouds detected more than 12,000 feet above ground level. The latter may result in reports of "clear skies" even when the sky is overcast if the clouds are higher than 12,000 feet. "Present weather" refers to types of precipitation, causes of visibility obscuration, and other standardized qualitative observations.
Locations of ASOS and AWOS sites in Mississippi (or within 20 km of the state line) are shown in Fig. 2. The official location for current METAR data reported through GTS is http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/metar.shtml. More convenient access is available through http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/MS_cc_us.html or the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research's (UCAR) Research Applications Program (RAP) http://www.rap.ucar.edu/weather/surface. The official repository for all NWS data is at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html). Since most of NCDC's data are not available for free, some users may also find the "Detailed History" feature (after selecting a location) at http://www.wunderground.com to be useful for data from the last few years. Other offices worth checking with are the Office of the State Climatologist (http://www.msstate.edu/dept/GeoSciences/climate) and the Southern Regional Climate Center (http://www.srcc.lsu.edu). The current list of phone numbers for direct access to current ASOS/AWOS observations is available at http://www.faa.gov/asos/map/ms.cfm. Toll-free access is currently available through the privately operated service described at http://www.anyawos.com.
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2.2 RAWS. The major federal land management agencies (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) have for the last several years operated their own network of automated weather observing sites known as RAWS (Remote Automated Weather Stations) (http://www.fs.fed.us/raws). The primary purpose has been fire management (Zeller et al., 2001). Hourly observations are reported of temperature, dewpoint (or relative humidity), wind, precipitation, and solar radiation. Fuel moisture and temperature are also observed, in order to better describe the combustibility of the local vegetation. Due to communications constraints of the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) satellite through which data are transmitted, different sites may report at a different number of minutes after the hour (although many report on the hour). There are also a few RAWS sites that still only upload their data once a day via phone line. Observation times are reported in UTC.
In Mississippi, RAWS observing sites are located on National Forest, National Park, and National Wildlife Refuge lands (Fig. 4). There are also several sites recently installed by the Mississippi Forestry Commission to give better coverage of the state. Since sites are typically collocated with work centers or agency communications infrastructure, the data may be more representative of forested environments than of the large clearings in which ASOS/AWOS stations tend to be sited (e.g., Fig. 3). Data from the last 24 hours may be obtained from http://raws.wrh. noaa.gov/roman. Limited access to archived data is available at http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/wraws/al_msF.html. The HADS system (described below in Section 2.4) also provides access to RAWS data.
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2.3 SCAN. The Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was developed primarily for agriculture. Currently Mississippi has the most SCAN sites of any state. Hourly observations include temperature, relative humidity, wind, precipitation, and solar radiation. Additionally, measurements of soil temperature and soil moisture are made at various depths under bare soil. Data are transmitted via meteor burst telemetry (Puterbaugh et al., 2003) to a central processing center for real-time access via the internet: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/scan/Mississippi/mississippi.html. All measurements are reported in metric units, and observation times are referenced to Central Standard Time. A typical site is shown in Fig. 5, and locations of observation sites in Mississippi are shown in Fig. 6.
2.4 Hydrological Networks (HADS). There are several sites in Mississippi (mostly in Jackson County) where the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Army Corps of Engineers measure temperature and/or wind to complement a larger network of precipitation and streamflow observations. These data are accessed by NWS for flood forecasting using the Hydrometeorological Automated Data System (HADS) (Glaudemans et al., 2002). Typically instrumentation (e.g., a rain gauge) is mounted on the side of a bridge over a major stream where river stage and discharge are being observed. Reporting intervals and times vary from station to station, with transmission via GOES satellite. Observation times are reported in Central Standard Time. Direct access to data through HADS is possible through http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hads, though the user interface is relatively inconvenient. Data may also be obtained from http://ms.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt or http://ms.water.usgs.gov/rt/biloxi/imap.html (for coastal counties). A USGS observing site that measures temperature, wind, and precipitation is shown in Fig. 7. All stations in Mississippi currently reporting meteorological data through HADS are shown in Fig. 8.
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2.5 Other Publicly Owned Real-time Sites. There are at least two marine weather sites relevant to Mississippi. Although technically within the waters of Louisiana, the buoy operated by the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) south of Biloxi (Fig. 9) provides hourly data (on the hour) for temperature, dewpoint, wind, and pressure. Additional data include winds every 10 minutes, and wave statistics and water temperature every hour. Data are transmitted via GOES satellite. Current and archived data may be accessed through http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/Maps/WestGulf.shtml. Another marine buoy site located near the Mississippi barrier islands is part of the Wave-Current-Surge Information System (WAVCIS) operated by Louisiana State University's Coastal Studies Institute (http://www.wavcis.lsu.edu). It observes temperature, wind, and pressure hourly on the hour, but data are only transmitted once every three hours. Additional marine observations describe waves, currents, and sea surface temperature. Transmission is by cellular phone to a Coastal Studies Institute lab.
Temperature, relative humidity, and pressure are reported for diagnostic purposes at three sites in Mississippi of the Ground-Based GPS Meteorology
(GPS-MET) demonstration network operated by NOAA's Forecast Systems Lab (FSL) (Wolfe and Gutman, 2000). Data are available every five minutes relative to UTC time from http://www.gpsmet.noaa.gov. The surface meteorological conditions are primarily monitored for use in calibration of ground-based integrated (i.e., total column) precipitable water retrievals using differential GPS technology.
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The NOAA Climate Reference Network (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/servlets/crnmap) is designed to provide very reliable long-term climate measurements at select sites around the United States (Baker, 2002). Data collected via GOES satellite upload include air temperature, radiative surface temperature, precipitation, wind speed, and solar radiation every hour. There is one station located in Mississippi near Newton.
The SURFRAD network (DeLuisi et al., 2000) exists primarily "to support climate research with accurate, continuous, long-term measurements of the surface radiation budget over the United States." These sites provide ground truth surface radiation budgets for validation and calibration of satellite-based estimates. Temperature, relative humidity, wind, pressure, and various radiation measurements are stored every three minutes in UTC time. The data are uploaded to http://www.srrb.noaa.gov/surfrad once a day. There is one site in Mississippi, near Batesville.
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2.6 AWS. The largest single network of privately owned weather stations is operated by "AWS WeatherBug." Many of the observing sites are located at schools. AWS works with a local television station to manage sites within a given television market. Significant limitations are imposed on data access and redistribution due to the commercial nature of the observing network. Observations are available of temperature, dewpoint (or relative humidity), wind, pressure, precipitation, and (in some cases) "light" (as a percentage of potential). Scientific integrity of data may be compromised in some cases by placement on the tops of buildings (Fig. 10). The network as of April 2004 is shown in Figure 11.
At many locations observations are available every minute, although some sites report only sporadically. Time is either Central Standard Time or DST, according to time of year. Northern Mississippi stations may be accessed at http://www.instaweather.com/WREG; central Mississippi stations at http://www.aws.com/wlbt; and coastal Mississippi stations at http://www.aws.com/wlox. For stations in northern Mississippi, archived hourly data can also be obtained freely from the website. As a reflection of the complexity of partnerships between multiple schools, businesses, and television stations, there is a wide variety of consistency in sensor calibration and communications reliability. As a consequence, data reliability and availability may range from fairly good to practically useless depending on the site.
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2.7 APRS and "wunderground." Automated weather stations owned by individuals exist at various locations with the state. There are two primary places to look for these data. The APRSWXNET/Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) has grown out of efforts to collect weather data observed by ham radio operators. Parameters reported can include temperature, humidity/dewpoint, wind, precipitation, and pressure. Data are available essentially instantaneously, although frequency of reports varies by station. Times are reported in UTC. As with AWS, there is a fair amount of flux from day to day of which stations are actually reporting. Since individual "observers" may purchase observing systems from several commercial vendors and maintain the equipment differently, there is no guarantee of consistency between sites. A list of sites with current observations may be found at http://www.wxqa.com/states/MS.html. Sites reporting on 8 April 2004 are shown in Fig. 12.
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Another source for data from privately operated weather stations is "wunderground.com" ("Weather Underground"). Variables observed include temperature, humidity/dewpoint, wind, pressure, and precipitation. Observation frequency varies, with times reported in Central Standard Time or DST. In many cases, individually owned websites exist that provide additional data, though not in a standardized format. Sites reporting in Mississippi are listed at http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/List Stations.asp. In a few cases, the sites also report data through APRS. Archived data are available through the website, both for the private sites and for ASOS observations.
2.8 NWS "COOP" sites. The backbone of NWS climatic observations for more than a hundred years has been the Cooperative Observer Program (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop). Relying primarily on manual observations by "cooperative observers," observations are normally made at over 100 sites in Mississippi once a day of maximum/minimum temperature, 7 am temperature, and daily precipitation. Temperatures may either be from manual liquid-in-glass thermometers or from an electronic Maximum-Minimum Temperature System (MMTS). In the manual case, the thermometers are shielded from sunlight within a white wooden instrument shelter (also known as a "cotton region shelter") (Fig. 13). The COOP network is the primary climate observing system in the United States and is used to generate most NWS official climate statistics. Approximately 40 stations also record hourly precipitation, and about 15 have supplemental observations of evaporation or soil temperature. Data are not routinely available to the general public in real time. In some cases, recent observations may be obtained from the closest NWS Weather Forecast Office. All data are eventually archived at NCDC, from whom they may be purchased. They may also be obtained from the state climatologist (http://www.msstate.edu/dept/GeoSciences/climate) or from the Southern Regional Climate Center (http://www.srcc.lsu.edu).
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2.9 Sources of multiple datastreams. NOAA's Forecast Systems Lab (FSL) maintains an interactive webiste (http://www-frd.fsl.noaa.gov/mesonet) for graphical access to real-time quality-controlled data from several observing systems. They store the full observational database in the Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System (MADIS) (Barth et al., 2002). Recent data from several networks are provided by AnythingWeather at http://www.anythingweather.com/state.aspx?id=ms. Other online resources dedicated to Mississippi weather data have been developed by Jackson State University, and may be accessed via links from http://weather.jsums.edu.
3. UPPER AIR OBSERVING SYSTEMS
Most knowledge of the state of the atmosphere above 10 m is from radiosondes. Commonly referred to as "weather balloons", radiosondes are typically launched by the National Weather Service at locations near their Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) (Peterson and Durre, 2004). As the balloon rises, temperature, relative humidity, and pressure are measured and sent back to a base station by radio. Winds at the different heights are determined from radar tracking of the balloon. Data are gathered from several mandatory pressure levels, as well as additional "significant" levels where atmospheric changes are noted. Usually it is possible to get data from throughout the troposphere and lower stratosphere, in some cases as high as 30 km (about 10 hPa). Radiosondes are launched twice a day at 00 and 12 UTC (approximately sunrise and sunset in Mississippi), with additional launches during special circumstances. One of the most comprehensive online sources for radiosonde data is maintained by FSL at http://raob.fsl.noaa.gov. There are many websites that present most recent radiosonde data in "skew-T ln p" graphical form or spatial analyses of mandatory level data from across the North America, such as UCAR RAP (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research's Research Applications Program): http://www.rap.ucar.edu/weather/upper. Although the only radiosonde site in Mississippi is at Jackson, others within surrounding states are close enough to be useful for some parts of the state. Locations are shown in Fig. 14.
To provide temporal resolution between radiosonde launches, ground-based radar wind profilers have been developed. For the most part these are part of FSL's National Profiler Demonstration Network (http://www.profiler.noaa.gov) (Benjamin et al., 2004). Wind speed and direction are sampled at regularly spaced vertical levels, and displayed as a time-height cross-section with a time increment of one hour. In Mississippi there is one site, at Okolona (Fig. 14).
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The National Weather Service's "NEXRAD" Doppler radar network serves a dual purpose of estimating rainfall rates and winds within storms. Based on radar reflectivity, rain rates can be determined. However, this relationship varies with the size distribution of droplets, which in turn depends somewhat on the character of the weather system. Accuracy of radar-derived rainfall estimates also depends on distance from the radar site. Very close to the site useful data are difficult to retrieve due to electromagnetic interference effects and the "ground clutter" of nearby buildings, trees, and topography. At distances too far away, the curvature of the earth results in the radar beam sampling too high above the ground to give a reliable representation of surface precipitation rates. In general, comparison with surface measurements of precipitation should be used to ensure calibration of radar estimates when quantitative precipitation is required. Radar back-scatter may also occur due to non-precipitation effects such as migrating birds, dust clouds, or atmospheric ducting. The major value of radar lies in its high spatial and temporal resolution.
The Doppler effect makes it possible to detect variations in the component of the wind radially toward or away from the radar site. This is dependent though on there being sufficient scatterers in the atmosphere. The most common application is for severe storm detection in association with lines of strong wind shear. NWS Doppler wind data are not routinely available to the general public.
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NEXRAD radar sites serving Mississippi are shown in Fig. 15. In addition, several television stations operate their own radars. Real-time displays of NEXRAD data are available through the web pages of the individual NWS WFOs, which are linked from http://www.rap.ucar.edu/weather/radar.
5. SUMMARY AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The various meteorological data sources relevant to Mississippi each have their own strengths and weaknesses. This paper has attempted to give a comprehensive snapshot of the current state of these data sources. Spreadsheets of basic station metadata on each of the networks in Mississippi are available to the public by following the appropriate links from http://weather.jsums.edu. Although large amounts of data are available, it remains that there are many situations in which the desired data simply do not exist or can not be accessed in a satisfactory manner. In many cases this reflects the spatial and temporal gaps in the observing networks. As mentioned earlier, there is currently an effort to significantly improve the meteorological data availability by building a Mississippi Mesonet. Having been designed to meet the needs of a wide user constituency, the mesonet is planned to have at least one station in each county and to provide real-time access to one-minute research-quality data.
This work was supported by the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) under grant number NA17AE1623. The comments of two anonymous reviewers were helpful in improving readability and usefulness.
Alonso, C., J. Augustine, T. Meyers, G. Schaefer, and L. White, 2003. Monitoring climate and weather variability in Mississippi. First Interagency Confer. on Research in the Watersheds, Benson, AZ, Oct. 27-30, 2003.
Benjamin, S.G., B. Schwartz, E.J. Szoke, and S.E. Koch, 2004. The value of wind profiler data in U. S. weather forecasting. Submitted to Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc.
Baker, C.B., 2002. The Climate Reference Network. 6th AMS Symposium on Integrated Observing Systems, Orlando, FL, Jan. 12-17, 2002.
Barth, M.F., P.A. Miller, and A.E. MacDonald, 2002. MADIS: The Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System. AMS Symposium on Observations, Data Assimilation, and Probabilistic Prediction, Orlando, FL, Jan. 12-16, 2002.
DeLuisi, J.J., J.A. Augustine, C.R. Cornwall, G.B. Hodges, C.N. Long, and D.L. Wellman, 2000. NOAA's SURFRAD: Surface radiation measurements at six U.S. regional stations. 10th AMS Confer. on Atmospheric Radiation, June 26-July 2, 2000.
Glaudemans, M.J., J.M. Roe, and P.S. Tilles, 2002. The ingest, quality control, and processing of hydrometeorological data at National Weather Service field offices. 18th International Confer. on IIPS, Orlando, FL, Jan. 12-17, 2002.
Harder, T.C., and J. Dunlap, 1999. Federal Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), current and future attributes. 15th International Confer. on Interactive Information and Processing Systems (IIPS) for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Boulder, CO, Jan. 10-15, 1999.
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Peterson, T.C., and I. Durre, 2004. A climate continuity strategy for the radiosonde replacement system transition. 8th AMS Symposium on Integrated Observing and Assimilation Systems for Atmosphere, Oceans, and Land Surface, Seattle, WA, Jan. 10-15, 2004.
Puterbaugh, T.L., R.P. Motha, G.L. Schaefer, T.B. Freeland, Jr., H.C. Pringle III, and H.L. Crowley, 2003. Operations of the Joint USDA/OCE/WAOB and MSU/DREC Agricultural Weather and Data Center. 12th AMS Symposium on Meteorological Observations and Instrumentation, Long Beach, CA, Feb. 8-13, 2003.
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APPENDIX OF ACRONYMS
APRS: Automatic Position Reporting System
APRSWXNET: APRS Weather Network
ASOS: Automated Surface Observing System
AWOS: Automated Weather Observing System
BLM: Bureau of Land Management
COE: Corps of Engineers
COOP: Cooperative Observer Program
CRN: Climate Reference Network
CSI: Coastal Studies Institute
CWOP: Citizen Weather Observer Program
DST: Daylight Savings Time
FAA: Federal Aviation Administration
FMH: Federal Meteorological Handbook
FSL: Forecast Systems Lab
GOES: Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite
GPS: Global Positioning System
GPS-MET: Ground-Based GPS Meteorology
GTS: Global Telecommunications System
HADS: Hydrometeorological Automated Data System
JSU: Jackson State University
LSU: Louisiana State University
MADIS: Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System
METAR: Routine Surface Weather Report
MFC: Mississippi Forestry Commission
MMTS: Maximum-Minimum Temperature System
NCAS: NOAA Center for Atmospheric Science
NCDC: National Climatic Data Center
NDBC: National Data Buoy Center
NEXRAD: Next Generation Doppler Radar
NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NPDN: National Profiler Demonstration Network
NPS: National Park Service
NRCS: Natural Resources Conservation Service
NWS: National Weather Service
RAP: Research Applications Program
RAWS: Remote Automated Weather Station
SCAN: Soil Climate Analysis Network
SRCC: Southern Regional Climate Center
SURFRAD: Surface Radiation network
UCAR: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
URL: Uniform Resource Locator
USDA: U. S. Department of Agriculture
USFS: U. S. Forest Service
USFWS: U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service
USGS: U. S. Geological Survey
UTC: Universal Time Coordinate
WAVCIS: Wave-Current-Surge Information System
WFO: Weather Forecast Office
WMO: World Meteorological Organization
Loren White (2) and James Finney
Department of Physics, Atmospheric Science, and General Science, Jackson State University, Jackson, MS 39217
(1) See appendix at the end of this article for a list of acronyms.
(2) Author for Correspondence: P.O. Box 17660
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|Publication:||Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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