WT Grad Student’s Research Helps Understanding of Precipitation in Texas Panhandle

Chip Chandler Apr 08, 2021
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WT Grad Student’s Research Helps Understanding of Precipitation in Texas Panhandle

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — Research at West Texas A&M University could revolutionize the understanding of how hail and rain are formed over the Texas Panhandle.

Research that recently was published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics might lead to better understanding of precipitation across the Panhandle and beyond, including more efficient ways to modify the weather.

Hemanth Sandeep Vepuri, a student from Hyderabad, India, who is pursuing his master of science degree in environmental science, is the primary author of the research into ice-nucleating particles (INPs) — the microscopic material in the air that water vapor condenses around to form ice crystals that make up clouds.

INPs can fall as snowflakes or hail or even rain, if they melt during the journey from cloud to ground, Vepuri said.

“The Panhandle receives a wide range of precipitation types in a year. The goal of this research was to examine how the concentration of INPs varies between the types of precipitation systems — hail and thunderstorms, snow, long-lasting rain storms and weak rain showers,” Vepuri said.

A system to collect precipitation samples was set up with assistance from WT’s Informational Technology department on the roof of the Natural Sciences Building on WT’s Canyon campus. In about 40 samples collected between June 2018 and July 2019, Vepuri’s team — which also includes Cheyanne Rodriguez, a senior environmental science major from San Antonio — found that there are some variations in INP concentrations among the different precipitation systems and that there’s a higher overall INP concentration in general.

“That may mean that something is going on in the Panhandle to cause higher INP concentration,” Vepuri said. “We’re now trying to study cattle feeders around this area. They send a lot of dust into the atmosphere, so our thought is that maybe those particles are acting as INPs.”

This is just the first step, said Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, assistant professor of environmental science and Vepuri’s research adviser.

“Understanding INP propensity and properties is key to shed light on cloud and precipitation formation as well as our future climate. But we definitely need more in-depth process-level understanding in INPs themselves and their interactions with clouds,” Hiranuma said.

Making longer observations and measurements and direct comparisons can help show the impact of INPs in precipitation in this region and beyond, he continued.

Vepuri and his team — which also includes Dr. Gregory Mayer from Texas Tech University and Dr. Dimitrios Georgakopoulos from the Agricultural University of Athens in Greece — have taken air particle samples at ground level at nearby feedlots and are comparing those to atmospheric samples taken in the skies above the region.

“We have found the same kind of microbiomes from the air and ground samples, but we don’t know if they’re acting as INPs or not. We also don’t know how they got into the samples — whether they rose on their own, returned to ground level after forming ice particles in the air or if they’re being captured while the rain is falling to the ground,” Vepuri said.

Those findings will motivate more research, Vepuri said.

“It’s important to study these INPs in the Panhandle because we know they are varying in these precipitation systems, so that may help us more accurately predict the amount of rain we will get in the future,” he said. “And if we do find that a relationship between INPs in clouds and those in precipitation, it could revolutionize the way we control clouds.”

This study is based upon work supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and a Killgore Graduate Student Research Grant from WT.

A focus on regionally impactful research, particularly when it comes to water and agriculture, is a key component of the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. With enrollment of more than 10,000, WT offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 40 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 15 men’s and women’s athletics programs.