Predicting a hurricane’s strength


There has been a huge amount of improvement
over the last twenty, thirty years because of satellites in our ability to
forecast where hurricane’s gonna go and there’s been essentially
no improvement whatsoever in our ability to forecast how strong it is gonna be
when it gets there If you think back on the problems that
happened when Katrina made landfall in New Orleans in 2006 the forecast for the track of that
hurricane was very accurate They had it right on They knew exactly where it was gonna make landfall
and when it was gonna make landfall But their forecast for how strong the storm
was gonna be was way, way off They forecasted a storm surge,
which is how high the ocean comes up because of the wind when it makes land fall; I think it’s about 10 or 12 feet
But the actual surge is about three times as big
and that’s why there’s a huge flood and that sort of mistake in forecasting
is exactly what we’re going after with this new mission We were awarded a contract from NASA
for the satellite mission called the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System,
for the summer and we are gonna be starting the work on it this fall
It involves building eight small satellites and putting them up
in orbit in the tropics to monitor hurricanes Traditionally, to measure what’s going on
in the middle of a hurricane you can’t use satellites
because the strength of the hurricane is determined by what’s going on in the middle of the hurricane;
we can’t see into the middle with traditional satellites So we, the research community, has developed a new technique
that can see into the middle of hurricanes through the rain and it uses GPS signals and
usually the GPS signal just goes straight to your cell phone and tells
you where you are but the signals also bounce off of things and in particular they’ll scatter off
the ocean surface in a hurricane and what we’re looking for, looking down from the
satellite is this GPS signals that scatter off the ocean surface and come
back up to our satellite and by analyzing the details of how the
signal gets distorted by the ocean you can figure out how strong the winds
are So with this mission we’re gonna be the first satellites up
there that can penetrate through the rain and because of that we’re going to be
able to make fundamental improvements in how well we can forecast the strength of
a hurricane and being able to do that it makes all the difference and, you know, your preparation: whether to
evacuate or not, whether to open up the levees and let the water drain and all
the sort of things you do in preparation for a hurricane

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