Science Improves Hurricane Forecasting

2016-05-27T11:29:59+00:00 May 27, 2016|
Hurricane Rita in 2005 was a category 5. (Credit: Wikimedia)

(Click to enlarge) Hurricane Rita in 2005 was a category 5. (Credit: Wikimedia)

The first hurricane of 2016 will be named Alex. The following storms have also been named, but scientists can’t tell you which ones will hit land or which will devastate lives until the storms gather strength.

The 2016 hurricane season starts next week, and hurricane preparedness is imperative, particularly to the 40 percent of Americans who live in coastal regions. Hurricane forecasting has improved substantially over the past century due to improved weather satellites and higher-technology computer models. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard held a hearing this week addressing improving weather forecasting. 

Hurricane prediction is becoming more critical due to climate change, as Ranking Member Cory Booker (NJ) noted, “Man-made global warming by the end of the 21st century will cause hurricanes globally to be more intense, on average of up to 11 percent stronger.” Recent advances in forecasting have been enabled through observational data from satellites, unmanned Coyote aircraft (a weather drone capable of flying within hurricane systems), advanced computer models, and faster computers. Scientific researchers are improving their understanding of predictions of atmosphere, ocean, and climate. After years of research and innovation by hurricane scientists, Dr. Rick Knabb (Director of the National Hurricane Center) announced that his center has two new tools this year: a storm surge watches and warnings system, designed to alert coastal residents about incoming hurricanes and storm surges, and maps of potential storm surge flooding zones, used to identify key areas that are susceptible to hurricane-induced flooding.

Continued innovation is required for the future, and Ranking Member Booker insisted that means increasing funding for research and development. Dr. Knabb agreed that improving funding could advance computer models, increase data from inside hurricanes, generate faster computers, and provide additional highly-trained staff to do the technical work. Ultimately, Dr. Knabb explained, “investing in research and development in computer modeling and data assimilations” will save lives and protect resources.