Scientists are Improving How They Track Hurricanes with New Satellites

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We’ve all been keeping up with the news lately regarding the many hurricanes that have battered the Caribbean and the southern coastline of the United States. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have flooded towns, knocked out power, and caused no uncertain amount of challenges as communities struggle to recover from these back to back natural disasters. There aren’t many good news stories coming out of the news right now, but one silver lining of these hurricanes is the improved methods scientists are utilizing to create more accurate hurricane tracking and modelling.


For researchers studying the patterns and behavior of hurricanes, it can be difficult to gather data or test new methods of gathering data without an actual hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane season in 2017 has given researchers the opportunity to perfect some of their previous methods and put into practice new instruments used to track hurricanes. The GOES-16 satellite was one tool that was used to track hurricanes’ size and intensity, as well as their paths across the ocean and land. Owned and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the GOES-16 satellite is the most accurate hurricane tracker and predictor in use today. The satellite and associated modelling technologies predicted landfall in the Florida Keys a week before it actually happened.

GOES-16 vs GOES-13 Imagery of Hurricane Irma

GOES-16 offers higher resolution images of hurricanes as compared to other similar satellites. The satellite can also track data such as wind speeds and water temperatures, which help researchers gather more accurate information about hurricanes to put into hurricane forecasts.

Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System

NOAA also utilizes a series of eight microsatellites known as the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, to track different aspects of a hurricane. These eight satellites work together to image and gather data about hurricanes from their formation to their ultimate landfall. Everything from the outer wall of the hurricane and its spinoff winds to the very center of the storm is seen by these satellites; with more information coming in, scientists are able to better understand the formation and pattern of hurricanes to more accurately understand what could happen when they come into contact with land and humans.

Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere Dynamical Core

The eye of the hurricane is of particular interests to scientists who study hurricanes. The winds and behavior of this part of the storm are wildly unpredictable, which makes advances like the GOES-16 satellite that much more important. New algorithms put into place by the NOAA have been tested this year as well, improving the science of analyzing hurricanes. A new algorithm, nicknamed FV3 (Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere Dynamical Core), allows scientists to create individual 3D cubes of data about a hurricane. This allows for a model that not only tracks speed and wind direction, but also updrafts and precipitation information to get a more accurate, big-picture look at the intensity of a hurricane. FV3 is the United States’ best attempt so far at more accurate hurricane modelling, and with more data comes the ability to create better systems for tracking these massive storms.

Timelapse Imagery of the October 2017 Northern California Wildifires from GOES-16

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