Tag Archives: hurricane

Tropical Storm Isaac as Seen From NASA Satellite


Tropical Storm Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast on Wednesday this week, and forecasters say it’s gaining enough speed to reach hurricane status by that time. Eerily enough, Isaac is set to make landfall in New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

NASA just released an animation of satellite observations from Aug. 25-27, which shows Tropical Storm Isaac moving past Cuba and the Florida Keys and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Created by the NASA GOES Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the visualization shows how quickly the storm evolved over the weekend.

When Isaac reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, it will be classified as a category one hurricane. As of 11 a.m. Eastern on Monday, Isaac’s cloud extent is about 480 miles in diameter, as tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 240 miles from the center, according to NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder. Isaac is moving at a speed of about 14 mph, but it’s expected to slow down tomorrow as it approaches the Gulf Coast, which could make it a stronger storm.

How are you keeping up with Tropical Storm Isaac?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/tropical-storm-isaac-nasa/

New Tool for Hurricane Trackers: Drones


Federal hurricane trackers this year will be experimenting with powerful new tools: unmanned boats and aircraft, including a massive drone more known for spying on battlefields than monitoring nature’s violence.

Researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are hoping a pair of military-surplus Global Hawk spy drones can provide new insight into the storms that routinely ravage the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, won’t be keeping an eye on Hurricane Isaac, which barreled down on the Gulf Coast on Tuesday. That storm is being monitored by more traditional means, including manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, but officials expect to have the drones up and running in time for the height of hurricane season.

On Friday, the first of two Global Hawk aircraft is scheduled to arrive at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with a shakedown flight scheduled to happen as soon as Monday. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in coming weeks with officials hoping for a first flight in mid-September.

The aircraft, built by Northrop Grumman, were among the first batch to be tested by the military. When the military sought upgraded aircraft, the drones ended up in the hands of NASA researchers, who, along with their counterparts at NOAA, have now fitted them with specialized sensors for monitoring storms.

Weather researchers have used or experimented with various unmanned vehicles for years (not to mention the original unmanned vehicles: weather satellites). But officials are now taking the technology to new levels.

NASA’s Global Hawks, for example, were first used for a limited number of experimental flights in 2010, but technical issues have kept them from gathering hurricane data until now, said Scott Braun, a NASA investigator who helps oversee the Global Hawk program.

The three-year program is just starting, and for now NASA’s plan is focused on basic research, rather than real-time forecasting. Still, with a 116-foot wingspan and an ability to stay in the air for nearly 30 hours, the Global Hawk promises to be extremely useful for observing hurricanes.

But don’t look for drones to replace the famous manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft that fly directly into the middle of hurricanes anytime soon.

Researchers have small UAVs that can survive the forces inside a hurricane, but they are too small to carry a wide range of sensors, Braun said. Larger aircraft like the Global Hawk, meanwhile, can’t handle such extreme weather. While manned flights into hurricanes can seem dangerous, only four such aircraft have been lost since 1943, the last one in 1974.

“We are still a long ways away from replacing manned flights,” he said. Instead, the UAVs will supplement manned flights by flying at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, thousands of feet above the thrashing winds and rain. One aircraft is designed to gather data about the environment around a storm, while the other UAV will study the storm itself.

It’s not the first time NASA has turned to spy aircraft for weather research. Since the 1970s, the space agency has used a version of the military’s U-2 aircraft to conduct a range of observations on everything from wildfires to migratory birds, as well as hurricanes. (During the 1960s, NASA unsuccessfully tried to help cover up Francis Gary Powers’s failed U-2 spy mission in the Soviet Union by claiming he got lost while conducting weather research.)

Like the military, NASA and NOAA are now looking to unmanned vehicles to either replace or bolster more traditional vehicles.

While Global Hawks may soon be a regular fixture above hurricanes, NOAA is experimenting with small, unmanned watercraft to penetrate storms at sea level.

The Wave Glider is a solar-powered floating platform that can take measurements from both the air and sea. Wave Gliders have been used for a range of weather and climate research, but now NOAA is experimenting with placing the craft in the path of oncoming hurricanes.

Unlike other craft, in theory, the Wave Glider can stay out indefinitely thanks to its solar panels, said NOAA’s Alan Leonardi. “The idea is to position a string of these in the path of a hurricane and gather data in a way we haven’t been able to before,” he said.

Also in the expanding NOAA arsenal of unmanned research vehicles is EMILY, a 65-inch watertight unmanned surface vehicle outfitted with a range of sensors and a high-definition camera. This year, scientists hope to remotely guide the craft into the center of hurricanes to gather data in some of the most dangerous areas of the storms.

“With unmanned craft, we’re not risking anybody’s life,” said Justyna Nicinska, program manager for NOAA’s EMILY, which was originally developed to help lifeguards with tricky sea rescues. Like other officials, Nicinska expects EMILY to compliment, rather than replace current systems. “EMILY will really fill gaps in our observation,” she said.

Image of Hurricane Isaac courtesy of NASA.

This article originally published at National Journal

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/hurricane-trackers-drones/

Dangerous Tropical Cyclone Ita to Make Landfall in Australia


Computer simulation of surface winds and air pressure associated with Tropical Cyclone Ita in far north Australia.
Image: http://earth.nullschool.net

Tropical Cyclone Ita, which surprised forecasters by rapidly intensifying into a fierce, compact storm that packs winds up to 160 miles per hour, is bearing down on the coast of northeastern Queensland, Australia.

With each successive forecast, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) projected storm track has come into closer agreement with the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. That spells trouble for the tropical resort city of Cairns, which is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the lush forests of northern Queensland.

Cyclone Ita satellite

Infrared satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Ita as it approached the coast of Queensland on April 10, 2014.

According to the BOM, Ita is expected to make landfall between Cape Mellville and Cooktown as a Category Five storm on Friday evening, Australian time. The BOM issued a statement warning that the landfall area could expect gusts as high as 186 miles per hour, along with dangerous storm surge flooding.

Coastal residents between Cape Melville and Cape Tribulation including Cooktown are specifically warned of the dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast later today. The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level which will be significantly above the normal tide, with damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland. People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible and be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the area if advised to do so by the authorities. Coastal residents between Cape Tribulation and Innisfail including Cairns should monitor the situation in case the cyclone takes a more southerly track than expected.

The storm is then forecast to weaken while curving south-southeastward, affecting Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns and Innisfail. The Typhoon Warning Center predicts that the storm’s center will strike land right over Cape Flattery, before lashing the coastal communities from Cooktown to Cairns with strong winds and potentially damaging storm surge flooding, before reemerging over the ocean on April 15.

The exact track of the storm has been difficult to predict in part because it is so compact, with the diameter of hurricane force winds (greater than 74 miles per hour) only reaching about 30 to 40 miles outside of the center of the storm. The storm’s rapid intensification was not fully anticipated, either, and there are some indications that it may weaken some before coming ashore.

If it fails to weaken significantly, it would become one of the most intense storms on record to hit Queensland.

In general, forecasters have more success predicting a storm’s track than changes in its intensity, largely due to a lack of observational data from within the core of a storm. Computer models don’t yet take all the key factors governing storm strength into account, and often lack the resolution necessary to capture small-scale developments in a storm as small as Ita is.

In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been conducting research to change that within the next few years, with modest successes seen so far.

At its peak intensity, Tropical Cyclone Ita exceeded the strength of Tropical Cyclone Yasi which struck Queensland in 2011, causing $3.6 billion in damage. That storm was the costliest in Australia’s history.

Ita could be more costly than Yasi, depending on its ultimate track and intensity. One concern is that the storm may slow down once it makes landfall, which could yield dangerously high rainfall in a state that has already had a number of of flooding events in recent years.

A tropical cyclone is the same type of storm as a hurricane, but these storms are referred to differently throughout the world. In the north Pacific, for example, they are known as typhoons.

In Australia, meteorologists use a different standard than the U.S. does for measuring tropical cyclone sustained winds, relying on a 10-minute wind reading, rather than the 1-minute average that the U.S. uses. The country also uses a slightly different ratings scale that has a lower threshold for a Category Five storm than the Saffir-Simpson scale that Americans are accustomed to.

According to Climate Central, when its winds are compared to the Saffir-Simpson strength scale used in the North Atlantic basin, Ita ranks as a Category Four storm, while the BOM ranks it as a Category Five storm.

Regardless of the standard used or storm type that is cited, Ita is an unusually potent storm that could do enormous damage.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/10/intense-tropical-cyclone-ita-to-make-landfall-in-queensland-australia/

Obama Urges Gulf Coast to Take Hurricane Isaac Seriously


President Obama is advising Gulf Coast residents to heed warnings about Isaac, which was upgraded to hurricane status just after noon Tuesday.

“We are dealing with a big storm, and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area,” Obama said. “Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.”

In Tuesday’s update, President Obama said he’s working with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in preparation for the hurricane’s passing and aftermath.

“This storm isn’t scheduled until later today,” he said. “But, at my direction, FEMA has been on the ground for over a week working with state and local officials in areas that could be affected.”

Efforts have focused on Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Hurricane Isaac is moving northwestward and will likely hit the Louisiana coast later this evening, according to National Hurricane Center.

On Monday, the President issued an official disaster declaration for Louisiana to receive federal aid for equipment and resources.

Image courtesy of Flickr, John Spade

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/obama-hurricane-isaac/