Forecasters employ new technology to get jump on hurricanes
August 22, 1999
From Correspondent Rick Lockridge
(CNN) -- New technology is helping forecasters better understand and predict hurricanes -- but these monster storms can still surprise even the experts.
Satellite imaging has given scientists a much better picture of how hurricanes work and what makes them grow stronger or weaker. But predicting which way the zig-zaggedy storms will move next remains an inexact science.
"It's like sampling public opinion," says Jerry Jerrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "You have to know where to go, what's representative. You wouldn't just go into one neighborhood and talk to everybody there, because you may find a very skewed picture of public opinion."
Recent additions to the tool kits of hurricane forecasters should help them cover all the "neighborhoods" and provide earlier warning to those in the path of a storm.
This summer, NASA launched the $98 million Quick Scatterometer, or Quick-Scat, satellite, an orbiting gauge of ocean winds.
QuickScat and other Earth-observing satellites are helping hurricane forecasters by gathering data on phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña and by measuring the strength and composition of Atlantic storms.
Meanwhile, a new network of weather computers should help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, improve the accuracy of its hurricane forecasts.
The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, a nationwide network of powerful new computers, will allow more sharing of weather data than has been possible in the past.
That includes data from the famous hurricane hunters, the Biloxi-based Air Force reservists who fly round-the-clock missions through the eyes of Atlantic hurricanes, taking measurements that can only be gathered in the center of each storm.
Hurricane forecasters are anticipating a busier-than-average season, predicting that three major storms will make landfall instead of the usual one or two.
National Weather Service upgrades forecasting tools
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