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Unmanned planes a big leap for hurricane science
08-20-2010, 02:50 PM (This post was last modified: 08-20-2010 02:52 PM by Batt2fd.)
Post: #1
Unmanned planes a big leap for hurricane science
Quote:[SIZE="4"]Unmanned planes a big leap for hurricane science[/SIZE]

[Image: bilde?Site=SH&Date=20100820&Cate...ofile=2081]

By Kate Spinner

Published: Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
AP ARCHIVE
A NASA Global Hawk robotic jet sits in a hangar at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The aircraft will be used in a study by the federal government to research the development of hurricanes.

The so-called "hurricane hunter" pilots who fly through storms to gather weather data can endure, at most, about six hours in a storm.

But now, using a new high-altitude unmanned military plane, hurricane scientists can keep an eye on the storm for 15 hours straight to dramatically increase their understanding of hurricanes and the ability to predict them.

The plane, a U.S. Air Force Global Hawk drone, is standing by in California, ready to fly its payload of meteorological equipment into the next tropical disturbance that forecasters think has hurricane potential. That storm could be forming right now near Cape Verde, some forecasters say.

No technology has ever allowed scientists such uninterrupted and detailed scrutiny of hurricanes.

The research, led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, aims to pinpoint exactly what makes thunderstorm clusters spin into hurricanes, as well as why some weak hurricanes will grow into monster storms in a matter of hours.

The research should help improve computer models and forecasters' grasp of hurricanes, giving emergency managers and the public more accurate information about whether a storm poses danger.

"This really is kind of a revolutionary way of studying a hurricane," said Jeff Halverson, a hurricane scientist for NASA and professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "You can loiter over the storm and not miss a beat."

Final preparations of the drone this week coincide with the peak of hurricane season, which could bring an increase in tropical storms and hurricanes from now through the end of September.

Meteorologists know some key details about hurricane formation: that a storm needs a moist atmosphere, at least 80-degree seas and little interference from competing winds. The trick is figuring out when those conditions will spawn a hurricane.

"The burning question is why do only about 20 percent of these over a warm ocean actually succeed in forming," said Ed Zipser, a NASA project scientist and professor at the University of Utah.

One theory is that a protective pouch surrounds storms that develop. Another is that inside a developing storm, heavy showers and smaller rotating storms merge into one strong rotating system.

Other aircraft "have observed bits and pieces of this over a period of years," Zipser said. "When they return, it's either a hurricane or nothing and we don't know what happened."

The Global Hawk offers a major research advancement in its ability to provide lengthier surveillance and carry more equipment to higher altitudes.

High-tech radar can record differing windspeeds from 65,000 feet above sea level.

The plane can also drop sensors from the top of the storm to record temperature, moisture and air pressure data. Other equipment measures rain, water vapor and even lightening, electric fields and conductivity.

Pilots will fly two other manned aircraft into and around the storm to collect information with equipment as varied as lasers that map out dust particles to microwave sounders that capture wind speeds and rainfall at the ocean surface.

Meanwhile, hurricane hunter aircraft will continue their data collection.

The drone-based research is the most aggressive hurricane project since 2001 and will continue for seven years.

"What we're seeking are those universal set of processes that seem to govern all hurricanes," Halverson said.

But before it can work, scientists still face the basic problem of figuring out where and when to fly.

The atmosphere is so chaotic that decisions must be made quickly, and the wrong call can mean a lost opportunity.

On Tuesday, Zipser and Halverson chased the remnants of Tropical Depression 5 in the northern Gulf of Mexico as a trial run with the piloted aircraft.

"The weather out here in the tropics, until a hurricane gets well developed, is pretty chaotic and pretty tricky," Zipser said. "The storms that we passed through, by the time we saw them, they were dissipating and others were forming."

Nature also has to produce storms where pilots and the Global Hawk can reach them. The ideal storm would be one that gets going near Puerto Rico and then curves up the East Coast without hitting land.

Because the Global Hawk flies out of California, the storm needs to be near the East Coast or in the Gulf of Mexico for scientists to get a 15-hour view of its behavior.

Over the past 20 years, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center have made big leaps forward in their ability to predict when and where a storm will form.

But their ability to predict exactly when a storm will form or its strength at landfall lags far behind.

"Any improvement would be better than what we have now," said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, the agency that issues official hurricane forecasts and warnings.

Read hopes to see science improve enough for forecasters to give at least a 24-hour warning before a storm goes from weak to strong, especially if it is near land. "Currently there's no skill," he said.
http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/201...ne-science

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08-20-2010, 02:54 PM
Post: #2
Unmanned planes a big leap for hurricane science
too cool1

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08-20-2010, 03:40 PM
Post: #3
Unmanned planes a big leap for hurricane science
Too cool, but why not base the plane on the east coast rather than California? Florida is a much more logical place to base a hurricane hunting mission - but I guess this is a government operation...
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