Severe weather institute moves forward
A proposed severe weather research institute received preliminary approval this week from a committee of The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.
The board's physical properties committee unanimously approved initial plans for a 10,363-square-foot, $7 million facility on the west side of the National Space Science and Technology Center.
The building would house the Severe Weather Institute and Research Laboratory (SWIRL), which is designed to build on the university's existing strengths in severe weather research. The Earth System Science Center has a $9 million annual budget and the Atmospheric Science Department has been ranked among the top 10 research programs in the country by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
"We already have the reputation," said UAHuntsville President Robert Altenkirch. "When you are deploying resources strategically, one rule of thumb is to put your money where your strength is. That's where you're going to get your best return on investment."
Funding has not been secured for the SWIRL building. State and federal funding is being sought. The committee approval is only the first step in the process; the plans must go back to the board and be approved three more times before construction can begin.
The proposed building design will feature some contradictions. On one hand, it will feature considerable glass so scientists and students can observe and study approaching weather systems. At the same time, it will be build to withstand direct exposure to tornadoes, with a portion of the building below the surface.
As planned, the SWIRL facility will include a severe weather campaign "command center," to improve command-and-control of mobile research assets and personnel deployed to study severe weather events. Other resources will include a high bay area for housing and working on mobile research assets, plus engineering labs and development space.
Led by Dr. Kevin Knupp, a professor of atmospheric science, the university's severe weather research program has grown substantially in the past decade. Projects have included studying landfalling hurricanes and tropical storms, thunderstorm and tornado development, and snow storm dynamics.