If we want to understand how devastating storms form and evolve, and how a changing climate might affect them, we need to go beyond the measurements that come from weather stations and sensors in satellites. Those measurements provide a lot of localised detail for some specific variables, but storms that travel from one end of the country to the other – covering hundreds of kilometres ­– require continuous coverage of physically consistent variables at very high resolutions.

So we use high-resolution weather models to represent physical processes in the atmosphere and simulate the development and evolution of variables such as rainfall, air pressure and wind that come together to create the storms we experience. Drs Alejandro Di Luca and Jason Evans, researchers from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, study storms in exactly this way.

June 2016 East-Coast Low from NCI on Vimeo.

Dr Di Luca said, “This kind of modelling work really requires a supercomputer like NCI’s. Having access to so much computing power lets us push the boundaries and discover new things about how our weather systems work.”

One regular weather phenomenon that they study, the so-called East-Coast Low, comes about almost every year on the east coast of Australia, creating storms with hugely destructive potential. In June 2016, a particularly fierce East-Coast Low caused major flooding and damage to southern Queensland, the New South Wales coast, Sydney and Tasmania.

Armed with their high-resolution model replication of that storm, the researchers worked with NCI’s scientific visualisation team to turn the data from it into a beautiful and scientifically robust video. Transforming the numerical data from the model into striking imagery highlighted critical aspects of the storm, very clearly showing the extremely localised rainfall occurring while the storm was taking place. Presented at scientific conferences alongside a discussion of the research findings, a visualisation like this makes it much easier to share ideas and collaborate with colleagues in similar fields. The visualisation adds significant value to the modelling work, making it more accessible and revealing previously hidden or invisible detail.

The researchers are also sharing their findings with the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, helping them understand the storms that so frequently cause damage and impact on society. In this way, land managers are already getting actionable information out of the research to help them plan for the future.