New NASA System Helps Hurricane Predictions

Hurricane Getty RF

As we enter the heart of the 2018 hurricane season, storm predictions and their accuracy are of the utmost importance.  Soon, forecasters may have a new tool that will allow them to look hurricanes right in the eye.  NASA is developing the program called Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS.  It involves using eight low-orbit satellites already launched to get closer and more frequent looks at the center of storms over the ocean, in order to track the storms’ intensity and potential for growth.

Mark Thibodeau, senior broadcast radio meteorologist for The Weather Channel, says this is an area of forecasting that is ripe for improvement.  "As far as a hurricane's intensity, that is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the storm," he tells KTRH.  "We've gotten pretty good at (predicting) the track, but the intensity is always tricky."

The technology of storm predicting has come a long way, especially in recent years.  "The computer models, the satellites, the radars that have come out have gotten a lot better at predicting the this ready to go up into a massive storm, is it going to stay the same, is it going to get weaker," says Thibodeau.  "For example, the new go-satellite that just came out in the last few years, which really paints a beautiful picture of what's going on inside these storms, with some really high-res visible satellite imagery."

Getting closer and more frequent looks at the center of storms is the key to accurately predicting how powerful they will become.  "Now we can look at these storms and say all right, the cloud tops are definitely cooling so it's a strengthening storm, and looking downwind of the storm we don't see any little features that are going to disrupt it," says Thibodeau.

NASA researchers say the CYGNSS program could be fully operational by next year.

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