Hurricane researchers race to collect data to improve storm forecasting

World Today

Hurricane researchers race to collect data to improve storm forecasting

Scientists have been busy with this year’s active hurricane season, which still has more than two months to go. Researchers are hard at work analyzing each storm, hoping to better predict the next to come.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Going into the 2017 hurricane season, experts who study these powerful systems say they expected a few more storms than usual. But not this many.

“The number and severity, one after another, clearly caught the scientific community off guard,” according to Anthony Busalacchi of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Busalacchi oversees the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which works to better understand weather events like hurricanes.

The center is especially suited for hurricane research, and constantly improving technology is providing it with better and better data. Satellites, aircraft-mounted sensors and improved radar are feeding billions of data points into supercomputers that combine all of the information to produce more accurate hurricane models.

“Now with storms such as Irma, we’ve had good information about the formation and possible track of Irma out to more than 10 days lead time,” Chris Davis of the NCAR Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Lab explained.

Longer-range hurricane forecasts are now possible, and hurricane tracks – the so-called cones of uncertainty – have been cut in half, according to the scientist.

“There are still cases that sneak up and surprise us,” Davis said.

Two recent examples are Hurricanes Harvey and Hurricane Maria, both of which intensified much more quickly than expected. Researchers said these two storms illustrate the need for more research on tropical storms and how they intensify.

Damage forecasts are also being reevaluated.

Right now, hurricanes are rated as Category 1 to 5, according to wind speed. But a different measure, the Cyclone Damage Potential Index, ranks storms from 1 to 10, measuring system sizs and duration in addition to peak wind speeds.

These extra factors provide a much fuller picture of a storm’s impact, providing critical information to a variety of bodies.

“Hurricanes that stick around for a long time can really drive up losses compared to hurricanes that just zip through an area,” according to NCAR Sciene Lead James Done.

Hurricanes have always been complex phenomena, a product of the way the ocean and the air above interact. And with that interaction happening right where giant waves, foam, sea spray and howling winds all come together, taking measurements is exceptionally difficult for researchers.

While scientists continue trying to learn what makes these giant systems spin, and also how they are steered by the atmosphere, they admit there will always be some level of uncertainty. But they continue on, knowing that their work matters to those who live within a storm’s path.

Island-wide power and internet failures plunge Puerto Rico into the dark

Hurricane Maria has severely Puerto Rico’s aging infrastructure. Officials have been forced to evacuate tens of thousands in danger of overwhelmed dams and reservoirs, while nationwide electricity and internet failures have left most of the population in the dark. CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.