September 1, 2008 Using data from a NASA satellite, scientists crafted accurate storm animations intended to improve upon current models used by meteorologists. They used historical data to combine all the information from a given storm to indicate the real rain, wind, and temperature data on maps of active Pacific Rim storms.
More than 1,500 people have died in the last three years -- caught in a hurricane's path. Imagine if you could see into the future. To do this, NASA has created new, more realistic storm animations that could save more lives. Todd Sherman keeps a watchful eye on the sky. As a storm spotter -- a person who watches for signs of severe weather -- Sherman finds both the beauty and the beast in natural disasters.
"When you hear the thunder and you see the lightning, when you hear hail bouncing off the roof, you're like, 'Wow. Why is that? Why does that happen?'" says Sherman. "You want to learn about it."
He's been hooked since he was a kid.
"I'm in awe," Sherman says. "It's fascinating, it's beautiful, but at the same time you do want to keep a good wary eye and be cautious of it because it is very dangerous," Sherman says.
Now there's an easier and safer way to know where and when storms will strike. Earth science students created new weather animations based on historical data from NASA satellites to map out the track and intensity of past storms.
"What we're actually showing is what happened -- not supposition, not probability, but what actually happened," says Jay Skiles, Ph.D., an earth scientist for the NASA Ames Research Center.
For the first time, all the information is brought together -- sea surface height, sea surface temperature, wind and rain intensities -- to create a new, more realistic animation. It maps out where similar storms have hit -- and the aftermath.
"We hope that disaster managers can use the information provided in these animations to estimate magnitude of storms in the future and also better prepare populations for the storm, and help in the recovery thereafter," Dr. Skiles says.
This new animation helps forecasters and students learn from past storms.
"What excites me about this is the learning that the students go through," Dr. Skiles says. "Seeing students come in almost raw, pick up information, and come up with something like this -- that is real world learning."
It's a lesson that could help save lives.
WHAT'S THE FORECAST: Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a future time and a given location. Humankind has attempted to predict the weather since ancient times. For millennia people have tried to forecast the weather. In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns. In about 340 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. Chinese weather prediction lore extends at least as far back as 300 BC. Ancient weather forecasting methods usually relied observed patterns of events. For example, it might be observed that if the sunset was particularly red, the following day often brought fair weather. This experience accumulated over the generations to produce weather lore. Today, weather forecasts are made by collecting data about the current state of the atmosphere and using computer models of the atmospheric processes to project how the atmosphere will evolve.
ABOUT HURRICANES: A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, a low-pressure system that usually forms in the tropics and has winds that circulate counterclockwise near the earth's surface. Storms are considered hurricanes when their wind speeds surpass 74 MPH. Every hurricane arises from the combination of warm water and moist warm air. Tropical thunderstorms drift out over warm ocean waters and encounter winds coming in from near the equator. Warm, moist air from the ocean surface rises rapidly, encounters cooler air, and condensed into water vapor to form storm clouds, releasing heat in the process. This heat causes the condensation process to continue, so that more and more warm moist air is drawn into the developing storm, creating a wind pattern that spirals around the relatively calm center, or eye, of the storm, much like water swirling down a drain. The winds keep circling and accelerating to form a classic cyclone pattern.
The American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.