New NASA model to improve forecasting of deadly cyclones

April 14th, 2009 - 2:23 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 14 (ANI): NASA has used satellite data and a new modeling approach that could improve weather forecasting and save more lives when future cyclones develop.

About 15 percent of the world’s tropical cyclones occur in the northern Indian Ocean, but because of high population densities along low-lying coastlines, the storms have caused nearly 80 percent of cyclone-related deaths around the world.

Incomplete atmospheric data for the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea make it difficult for regional forecasters to provide enough warning for mass evacuations.

In the wake of last year’s Cyclone Nargis, which was one of the most catastrophic cyclones on record, a team of NASA researchers re-examined the storm as a test case for a new data integration and mathematical modeling approach.

They compiled satellite data from the days leading up to the May 2 landfall of the storm and successfully “hindcasted” Nargis’ path and landfall in Burma.

“Hindcasting” means that the modelers plotted the precise course of the storm.

In addition, the retrospective results showed how forecasters might now be able to produce multi-day advance warnings in the Indian Ocean and improve advance forecasts in other parts of the world.

“There is no event in nature that causes a greater loss of life than Northern Indian Ocean cyclones, so we have a strong motivation to improve advance warnings,” said the study’s lead author, Oreste Reale, an atmospheric modeler with the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center.

In their modeling experiment, Reale’s team detected and tracked Nargis’ path by employing novel 3-dimensional satellite imagery and atmospheric profiles from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite to see into the heart of the storm.

AIRS has become increasingly important to weather forecasting because of its ability to show changes in atmospheric temperature and moisture at varying altitudes.

Lau, chief of Goddard’s Laboratory for Atmospheres, believes that regional forecasting agencies monitoring the region can readily access AIRS’ data daily and optimize forecasts for cyclones in the Indian Ocean.

According to Lau, the same technique can be useful to forecasts of hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the western Pacific, particularly when the storm is formed over open oceans out of flight range of hurricane-hunting airplanes.

“With this approach, we can now better define cyclones at the early stages and track them in the models to know what populations may be most at risk,” explained Reale. “And every 12 hours we gain in these forecasts means a gain in our chances to reduce loss of life,” he added. (ANI)

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