NASA Develops New Technique to Forecast Cyclones

by CXOtoday Staff    Apr 14, 2009

NASA has developed a new satellite data integration and mathematical modeling approach that could improve weather forecasting and alert when future cyclones develop.

Following the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis last year, a team of NASA researchers re-examined the storm using a new data integration and mathematical modeling approach. The team 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. - that is, the modelers plotted the precise course of the storm.

The retrospective results showed how forecasters might now be able to produce multi-day advance warnings in the Indian Ocean - in particular the northern part where about 15 percent of the world’s tropical cyclones occur - and improve advance forecasts in other parts of the world. Results from their study were published on March 26 in Geophysical Research Letters.

In the months that followed Cyclone Nargis, a US-based team tested the NASA-created Data Assimilation and Forecasting System known as GEOS-5 and its NASA/NOAA-created analysis technique using data from the days leading up to Nargis because the storm was particularly fatal and highly characteristic of cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean.

As per NASA, cyclones in the Bay of Bengal - stretching from the southern tip of India to Thailand - are difficult to analyze due to "blind spots" in the atmospheric data for individual storms, as well as the small dimensions of the Bay, which ensure that storms do not have much time to develop or circulate. In most instances, regionally strong wind shear suppresses cyclone development.

In their modeling experiment, the 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.

Data assimilation transforms the data into digital local maps that models can "read" to produce either hindcasts or advance projections of future weather conditions.

Regional forecasting agencies monitoring the region can readily access AIRS’ data daily and optimize forecasts for cyclones in the Indian Ocean.


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