When a major storm develops, we want to know where it will hit and how strong it will be. Currently, the best way to study a hurricane is to fly a plane near the storm to collect data. But, that approach can be costly, not to mention very dangerous.
“If you look at Katrina, we were completely wrong with the intensity of the hurricane” said Kamran Mohseni, an aerospace engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
To track storms now, aircraft fly over the storms and drop a device that collects data as it falls through the clouds. But it’s not a perfect way to collect information.
“You put people at risk. The airplane is at risk and it is extremely expensive, and if you crash, that’s major news,” said Mohseni.
There are 15,000 active volcanoes around the world. Of those, about 50 erupt each year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases and lava. But scientists don’t know which volcanoes are most likely to erupt. A new tool is helping them to figure that out.
More than 43,000 people live in the shadow of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the largest volcano on Earth. Another 80,000 people live in the danger zone of Mount Rainier in Washington state.
Forget Moby Dick’s white whale – a tropical cyclone is by far the most difficult ocean beast to track. This rotating system of clouds and thunderstorms, most commonly known to North Americans as a hurricane once it reaches a certain size and speed, is typically several hundred miles wide with winds as fast as 155 miles per hour.
These vast storms are essentially a physics puzzle, in which the interaction of moisture, wind, air, heat and other elements can trick even the most knowledgeable scientists trying to forecast both the path and intensity of a hurricane. In the last decade, weather models have gotten much better at predicting path and landfall, but they have been less skillful when trying to estimate pressure and maximum wind speeds.
So when the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center recently launched a new hurricane prediction model capable of tracking a storm’s intensity, it was no small feat. Known as COAMPS-TC (Coupled Ocean/Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System-Tropical Cyclone), the model can accurately forecast wind strength one to five days out. This is essential information for fleets and installations that might need to evacuate or protect their facilities—under- or overestimating the strength of a storm can be a costly mistake.