Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......April 5 , 2001

Better rain predictions could
improve flood forecasting

By A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Public Information RESEARCH_Knight2

Forecasts for heavy rains in the Middle Atlantic region of the United States often come too late to predict flooding accurately, but evaluations of past storms with different forecasting methods may improve flood prediction, according to two Pennsylvania meteorologists.

"The problem in Pennsylvania is flooding," said Paul G. Knight, state climatologist at University Park. "Pennsylvania is one of the more flood-prone states in the nation. It is in the top quarter."

Pennsylvania is laced with rivers, creeks, streams and mountains, making it vulnerable to flooding. Pennsylvania also is flood prone because flooding is not a phenomenon of only one season.

"In the spring and fall we get slow floods as the ground saturates and streams fill, in the winter, rain on frozen ground, along with snow and ice melt often causes flooding and in the summer, thunderstorms and tropical storms also cause flooding," Knight said. –Pennsylvania is one of the more flood-prone sta

These varied weather conditions contribute to the difficulties in forecasting heavy rains. The computer models that help forecast weather employ convective parameterization schemes to account for atmospheric conditions that are not completely rendered in the models. In essence, these schemes are fudge factors that help the models approximate rainfall and improve forecasts.

"Thunderstorms, for example, are rather small and fall between the grid points in our models," Knight said. "Convective parameterization schemes try to account for such events that are smaller than the models can see."

Reducing the size of the grid squares is not yet an option because the increase in data points dramatically increases the amount of computer time and power necessary to run the models.

Heavy rainfall baseline

Working with Michael S. Evans, National Weather Service meteorologist, Knight initially looked at case studies to produce a baseline of data on heavy rainfall events in the area covered by the Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center of the National Weather Service in State College.

His current project expands and updates the baseline data on climate to include more data. Problems arise because past data are not in the same time frame or even the same small river basins as recent data. The baseline data helps in reviewing how different schemes to estimate the effect of thunderstorms work in predicting flooding. The researchers looked at several recent floods to see how different schemes predicted rainfall.

For example, the August storm that broke the 1999 mid-Atlantic region drought created twin flash floods in the Bradford and Mifflinburg areas. The storm caused more than $25 million in damage in the Bradford area alone.

"These twin floods posed a serious challenge to forecasters since both operational and experimental models predicted a wide range of scenarios," Knight said.

The researchers tested three different model configurations on the storm to see which produced the best fit for the actual event.

Each model kept the same grid spacing but used different thunderstorm rainfall schemes. Of the three models tested, only one came close to predicting the rainfall that actually fell during the storm.

"These results do not mean that the scheme that produced the best results is the best scheme to use all the time," Knight said. "Depending on the season and the atmospheric conditions, different schemes are the best for different sets of conditions."

Predicting floods

The researchers are trying to determine which schemes should be employed in which situations, but that will require more case studies and model testing. Ultimately, Knight and Evans would like to be able to predict storms with flood potential a day or two in advance.

The research was funded by a Cooperative Operational Meteorological Education and Training grant administered by the University Corp. for Atmospheric Research. COMET grants are intended to foster rapid technology transfer of research in forecasting to the forecasting community. The grants are given for cooperative work between universities and the National Weather Service and are regional in focus.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer can be reached at

Executives need to
practice moral

By Paul Blaum
Public Information

Business executives must be both moral people and moral managers to be ethical leaders or employees will assume that they are ethically neutral and care only for the bottom line, a researcher said.

"It isn't enough for an executive to have a reputation for personal integrity. That communicates to employees what the executive is likely to do -- a good start, but it does not necessarily tell workers what they themselves should do. Executives need to focus on moral managing -- taking the ethics message to the rest of the organization," said Linda Klebe Trevino, chair of the Department of Management and Organizational Behavior in The Smeal College of Business Administration. Trevino, Laura Pincus Hartman, associate professor of management at DePaul University, and Michael E. Brown, graduate student in business administration, conducted interviews with 20 senior executives and 20 corporate ethics officers.

A number of the executives interviewed cited former Sunbeam chief "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap as a prime example of unethical executive leadership. He was unethical on a personal level, engaging in emotional abuse of employees and operating by virtual intimidation. Dunlap resorted to dishonest management practices, exaggerating sales and earnings reports and presenting a false picture of the company's financial health to Wall Street analysts. The board of directors fired him.

In contrast was Johnson & Johnson CEO James Burke, who brought together 28 senior managers to study the corporate credo of values and to make changes, if they saw fit. Through this collaborative effort, Johnson & Johnson revised its credo of values, and Burke made sure that the new version was enforced.

Moral managers can stress the role of ethics first by serving as authentic and persuasive role models. This has to be done in a manner that is continually visible to employees, who judge by deeds, not words or intent.

"Second, moral managers need to talk about ethical values from the top, not in a sermonizing way, but in a way that explains the values that guide important decisions and actions," said Trevino. "Third, using rewards and discipline effectively may be the most powerful way to send signals about desirable and undesirable conduct. That means rewarding those who accomplish their goals by behaving in ways that are consistent with stated values and disciplining employees at all levels when they break the rules."

Paul Blaum can be reached at