Here’s a look at how scientists use technology to predict strong storms.
WASHINGTON — Just last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center released their 2022 hurricane outlook.
And while forecasters are once again predicting an above-average season, we’re actually off to a slower start than we’ve seen in the past six years. For the first time since 2015, there hasn’t been a named storm before the start of the season. But that isn’t an indication of what is to come.
“We’ve had some busy years. 2020 and 2021 we ran out of names and those two busy seasons were in a pandemic.”
The Director of the National Hurricane Center, Ken Graham, says that not only are we expecting another active hurricane season, but that climate change is impacting the way we forecast.
“There’s a warmer atmosphere that can hold more moisture,” says Graham. “And if you think about a rising sea level, there’s more to work with when it comes to the storm surge, not just the height of the storm surge. But how far inland some of that storm surge can go.”
Ninety percent of fatalities in tropical systems historically have been from the water. Since 2017, the leading cause of death has been inland flooding well away from the coast. And it doesn’t take a major hurricane to cause significant damage and loss of life.
“There’s no such thing as just category one,” Graham says. “And it’s important to say because we’ve had so many large storms, we’ve had these powerful storms, it doesn’t take a category four or five to cause significant damage when it comes to storm surge that comes to inland flooding.”
To better understand the technology the National Hurricane Center is working with, we took a walk around the airplanes that fly into storms, better known as hurricane hunters. These planes are packed with technology that collects data and goes right into the computer models we use to forecast.
“We’ve cut the intensity forecast error in half over the last three years, we’re getting more information into the models, and to help us out with the intensity forecast. And we’ve seen new mapping, you know, storm surge mapping that the highlight some of the most dangerous parts of really that storm surge,” explains Graham. “That could mean the difference between evacuating a major city or not, and people could lose their lives in an evacuation. So we really want to target those evacuations. The data from the aircraft really helps us make those good forecasts and let the elected officials and the emergency managers make those tough decisions.”
And there’s more than just pilots in these planes, there’s also a group of researchers constantly testing new equipment.
Graham explains, “One of the great things about this aircraft is it’s not just what you think about the normal operations, but it’s research, getting the new technology on board here tested to see if we could bring that to the National Hurricane Center to make the forecast better. That’s a huge deal.”
All of these advancements are so important, especially as we remain in this incredibly active La Nina pattern.
In fact, on Memorial Day, Category 2 Hurricane Agatha became the first named storm of the year in the East Pacific Ocean making landfall on the southern coast of Mexico. In doing so, Agatha made history as the strongest May hurricane to ever make landfall in the eastern Pacific basin.
If Agatha re-strengthens in the Gulf of Mexico and becomes a tropical system once again, it would become an Atlantic basin storm and be named “Alex”
Right now, there is a 70% chance of development in the next 5 days.
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