Seeing Into the Eye of Hurricane Rita
Weather model advances hurricane intensity prediction
An advanced research weather model run by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., is following Hurricane Rita to give scientists a taste of how well forecast models of the future may predict hurricane track, intensity, and important rain and wind features.
See the model's daily storm projection at http://www.ucar.edu.
With its high-resolution grid of data points just about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) apart, the model can project the location of fine-scale rain bands and eyewall structures 48 hours into the future.
It's these features of the storm that determine where the greatest damage from both rain and wind might occur, says NCAR weather expert Chris Davis. Current operational forecast models use a coarser resolution and must approximate the cloud processes affecting intensity and precipitation.
Known as ARW, the computer model is NCAR's research version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF), a joint effort by university and government scientists.
"ARW intensity predictions are very encouraging," says Davis. "Five years ago, accurate intensity predictions weren't even possible."
Adds Cliff Jacobs of the National Science Foundation's atmospheric sciences division, "The ability to make these forecasts, which are becoming increasingly accurate, has far broader impacts beyond the study of meteorology. NSF funds NCAR.
The model captured in detail the collapse of Hurricane Katrina's eyewall at landfall and the shift of precipitation to the north side of the storm. Had the eyewall's structure remained coherent, the winds would have been far more devastating. The eyewall always weakens at landfall, says Davis.
Teams supporting the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are using real-time ARW data in their damage models. Researchers are testing how computer simulations of a particular hurricane's most-destructive features can lead to better warnings of floods, power outages, and road blockage. This year's test cases have included Hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, and Rita.
Meanwhile, a hurricane experiment in Fla. is investigating the interactions between Hurricane Rita's rain bands and its eyewall. NCAR's Wen-Chau Lee and colleagues are flying through the storm aboard a Naval Research Laboratory P-3 aircraft to gather radar data from inside the bands.
The observations from the Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment (RAINEX), also funded by NSF, will help scientists better understand the impact of the rainbands on the storm's maximum winds.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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