Could Hurricane Forecasting Get Better in 2013?


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Scientists were able to predict Sandy's transformation into a Superstorm. Image by NASA

Scientists were able to predict Sandy’s transformation into a Superstorm. Image by NASA

Technology Helps Track and Predict Hurricanes

Hurricanes are notoriously fickle, but the introduction of satellite technologies has helped scientists and members of the public visualize hurricanes and track their paths.

Scientists look for clues that will help them determine where the storm might move and how intense it is going to be.

In the case of Hurricane Sandy, this allowed forecasters to realize that the hurricane was likely to merge with another weather system, and the forecast went out before Sandy hit the US.

Hurricane Intensity: New Moisture-Sensing Technology

In 2013, there may be a new tool to help hurricane trackers get people ready for the storm.

A study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has discovered that the moisture levels around a hurricane can help determine whether the hurricane will intensify. Satellite data have allowed scientists from ASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., UCLA and the University of Hawaii at Manoa to discover that hurricanes that intensify quickly tend to be those that are in a moist environment.

The hurricanes that weaken or stay the same tend to be in areas with much lower relative humidity. While scientists have traditionally thought that hurricanes weaken or intensify based on the conditions inside the hurricane, this study shows that the environment around a hurricane can change the way a hurricane intensifies.

Hurricanes in 2013: Better Monitoring

Currently, NASA is looking at ways to incorporate this new data into the organization’s hurricane monitoring system. Information about relative humidity could give another clue to forecasters who are looking for ways to determine whether a tropical storm will turn into a strong hurricane, or whether it will fade away.


NASA. NASA Study May Improve Hurricane Strength Forecasts. Accessed January 2, 2013.

Longtao Wu, Hui Su, Robert G. Fovell, Bin Wang, Janice T. Shen, Brian H. Kahn, Svetla M. Hristova-Veleva, Bjorn H. Lambrigtsen, Eric J. Fetzer, Jonathan H. Jiang. Relationship of environmental relative humidity with North Atlantic tropical cyclone intensity and intensification rate. (2012). Accessed January 2, 2013.

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