What’s New in Hurricane Research

NOAA Research Provides New Insight into These Monster Storms

Where and how strong? When it comes to a hurricane, those are two key questions that coastal residents need answered. And those answers come much faster today thanks to decades of studies by NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Over recent decades, the Hurricane Research Division of the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory has led many of the scientific advances behind better forecasting.

Destruction from Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Miss.

Destruction from Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Miss.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A Question of Intensity

While NOAA’s scientific research has vastly improved hurricane tracking forecasting, comparable improvements in predicting hurricane intensity have been harder to achieve. Researchers from NOAA’s Boulder, Colo., lab are looking at possible ways to change that.

During the 2010 hurricane season, they will be studying water vapor measurements gleaned from GPS-meteorology instruments — the first to be located on stationery platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Since moisture-rich air can increase storm intensity and dry air can weaken it, GPS measurements are expected to improve hurricane intensity forecasts.

These measurements have the potential to more accurately indicate of the amount of water vapor in a storm’s path and improve the ability of satellites to estimate this quantity over the open oceans.

The Collective WISDOM on Hurricanes

WISDOM balloon launch.

WISDOM balloon launch.

High resolution (Credit:NOAA)

When a hurricane threatens land, the first thing coastal residents need to know is where it will come ashore. With additional data on winds over parts of the open ocean, hurricane forecasters could potentially improve advanced lead time for the track a hurricane will take. Such measurements over the open ocean can be logistically difficult.

In 2010, the WISDOM (Weather In-Situ Deployment Optimization Method) Program will launch up to 200 balloons to probe the winds that influence the path of a hurricane. This research is aimed at improving the three- to six-day hurricane track forecast by collecting wind and pressure data for forecast models. 

Starting its third year, the WISDOM Program will launch balloons from mid-August through September from the U.S. East Coast and international sites several days before a hurricane threatening the United States makes landfall.

The WISDOM program is a joint effort between NOAA and several federal, public, academic and international partners. For more information visit the WISDOM Web site.

A Model Example in Storm Prediction

Now you can learn about the science behind the forecasts on a new NOAA Web site focusing on hurricane computer models. This site includes sections on hurricane prediction and projection; regional, global, and theoretical modeling from short term to long term; and hurricane visualizations.

Hurricane Isabel Coupled Hurricane Forecast.

Hurricane Isabel Coupled Hurricane Forecast.


Scientists in NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, N.J., developed one of the best models for predicting hurricane tracks in operation today. Used by the National Weather Service since 1995, this model now incorporates upgrades to improve hurricane intensity forecasting. The lab is working on seasonal and multi-decade models too. Go to GFDL’s Hurricane Portal to learn more.

Learn About the Scientists Who Study Storms

NOAA researchers Seth Gutman and Frank Marks are two of the many NOAA scientists working on ways to improve hurricane forecasting. Read interviews with them to learn about their research and motivation for pursuing it. Seth Gutman works in the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s Global Systems Division in Boulder, Colo. Frank Marks is with the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s Hurricane Research Division.  NOAA logo.