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January 20, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Hurricanes, Winter Storms. Common Link?

You’ve been hiding under a rock since the 1940s if you’re unaware airplanes have been flying into hurricanes to send back detailed and otherwise unobtainable information to weather forecasters. One of NOAA’s (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) missions is penetrating hurricanes from their base in Florida. They use jet aircraft for high-altitude research and turbo-props for work inside the hurricanes. The US Air Force and Navy also fly into tropical storms. Better forecasts have been the result of course, and now NOAA is turning that strategy northward to winter storms.

Ask any forecaster what he or she would need in order to make a better forecast and invariably the answer will be, “More data!” The mission of the hi-tech Gulfstream IV (also used as a luxurious corporate jet in other applications) is to gather information over data-sparse areas of the North Pacific. Filling in gaps and allowing forecasters to see more of the “big picture” will be key as winter storms, which often originate in the bitterly cold air of Russia, move eastward across the North Pacific on their way to North America.

Computer models, too, are well-known for their work centered on hurricanes. But these models also produce forecasts for the entire globe; moving complicated airmasses on a hemispheric scale. Like their human counterparts, the computers crave more data and their improved output will be noticed with more accurate forecasts. The U.S. West Coast will be an immediate recipient of the improved forecasts, while the Vancouver Olympics (YWB: 18-Jan-10) are counting on a better read, as well. Accuracy from precipitation models was shown to have increased 10-15% with this new data.

NOAA’s G4 streaks above the clouds. Photo: NOAA.
Source: NOAA




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