Volume: 03, Issue: 13 06/27/2005 
Image of Hurricane Frances in 2004. Image courtesy NASA/GSFC/NOAA.
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MODIS image of Hurricane Ivan on September 15, 2004. Image credit Jacques Descloitres/MODIS/NASA/GSFC.
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This image of Tropical Storm Arlene was captured by the Expedition crew 11 aboard the International Space Station on June 10, 2005. Image courtesy NASA.
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Image of Hurricane Alberto in 2002. Image courtesy NASA/NOAA.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Deep Impact on Course for Independence Day Collision
Cassini Reveals Lake-Like Feature on Titan
Hubble Chases Unruly Planet
Learn From Women in Space Fields

Researchers Brace for Violent Hurricane Season

In the wake of last year’s deadly hurricane season, scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are buckling down for another season of devastating hurricanes and cyclones. New studies by the organizations aim to help understand these violent weather events and aid in protecting those in the storms’ paths.

The NOAA National Data Buoy Center recently launched six new weather data buoy stations designed to enhance hurricane monitoring and forecasting. The buoys have been deployed in key locations in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean. The center also deployed a seventh buoy off the coast of Pensacola, Fla.

“These new buoys are a critical element in enhancing our abilities and an important step in NOAA’s commitment with our international partners to improve our ability to observe the ocean and overlying atmosphere,” said NOAA administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., a retired Navy Vice Admiral. “We need every tool possible to track these storms in order to protect lives and property.”

NOAA predicts 12-15 tropical storms for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, with seven to nine of those becoming hurricanes and three to five developing into major hurricanes.

Wind, wave, barometric pressure, and temperature data from the new stations will help the NOAA Tropical Prediction Center more accurately determine formation or dissipation, extent of wind circulation, maximum intensity and center location of the tropical cyclones. In addition, direction, height and distribution of ocean waves generated by hurricane activity will be measured.

Beyond their measurements of tropical cyclones, the buoys are also expected to provide year-round data for analysis and forecasts of other marine disturbances. Data from the buoys, some as large as 12 meters wide, will also be used to validate the quality of measurements and estimates obtained from remote-sensing reconnaissance aircraft and satellites and National Weather Service forecasts.

Meanwhile, NASA hurricane researchers are deploying to Costa Rica to investigate the birthplace of eastern Pacific tropical cyclones. They are launching the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) mission, a month-long research effort primarily intended to document "cyclogenesis" -- the birth of tropical storms, hurricanes, and related phenomena.

Researchers will monitor oceanic thunderstorms to study why some systems develop into tropical cyclones and some do not. This data is vital to understanding how such weather systems evolve and travel. It also could support development of a more accurate and timely warning system to help safeguard property and lives.

A team of atmospheric scientists, engineers, and aircraft personnel will take up residence in San Jose, Costa Rica during July. The NASA team will work with NOAA and Costa Rican Centro Nacional de Alta Tecnologia (CENAT) to conduct ground-based and airborne studies to measure the buildup and behavior of tropical storm systems on Costa Rica's east and west coasts.

Missions will be flown over the region using NASA's ER-2 and NOAA's WP-3D Orion aircraft and with unmanned aerial vehicles. The airborne experiments will collect temperature, humidity, precipitation, and wind information related to tropical cyclones and other phenomena that often lead to development of more powerful storms at sea. The field operations will also take advantage of several NASA and NOAA satellites. In addition, NASA and the Instituto Meteorologico Nacional of Costa Rica will launch several RS-92 series balloon-borne probes to measure humidity and other data related to tropical storm origins.

Costa Rica was an ideal choice as the home base of the research operation. A vast number of tropical storms and hurricanes impacting the eastern Pacific are spawned near the small Central American nation's western coast.

"In the Atlantic, cyclogenesis often occurs off the western coast of Africa, or sufficiently far out over the ocean that long-duration science flights are extremely difficult," said Dr. Ramesh Kakar, Weather Focus Area leader for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "In the eastern Pacific near Costa Rica, however, it is possible to study the genesis process from formation of the initial disturbance until, in some cases, it grows into a hurricane over a more compact geographical region."

Researchers also will be able to take advantage of their proximity to the Caribbean and the western Gulf of Mexico, studying tropical systems off Costa Rica's eastern shores during more mature phases of development.

"Building on a quarter century of ever improving spaceborne observations of the Earth, we are entering an exciting new era,” said Robbie Hood, an atmospheric scientist at Marshall Space Flight Center and one of three lead scientists for the Costa Rica project. “[We] will be using information collected by satellites and uninhabited aerial vehicles to the best advantage for improved weather prediction and other societal benefits."

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