The question of when, where and how hard the next hurricane will hit will now be answered up to five days in advance, thanks to a recent $5M federal research grant to the University of Miami.
The grant will establish an unprecedented, highly sophisticated hurricane forecasting system that will provide potentially life-saving information currently not available to the National Hurricane Center.
Sponsored by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), Hans Graber, professor of applied marine physics at UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, brought together leading members from academia, federal agencies and the private sector to collaborate in an innovative hurricane research project.
The goal of this particular project, titled "Real-Time Forecasting System of Winds, Waves and Surge in Tropical Cyclones," is to provide better information on the impact of hurricanes -- specifically the wind, resulting waves and storm surge -- as they approach the coastline and during landfall.
Understanding the interactions between the air and sea are fundamental to hurricane studies. Small storms, for example, often are steered by the winds in their area, but other larger storms can actually change their environment. This new forecasting system will collectively look at the wind, waves and storm surge and how they play off each other.
Improvements in technology, combined with a wealth of experience, have helped forecasters predict storm tracks and impacts with greater accuracy. Still, most of the technologies, such as wind, wave and storm surge models, have developed independently of each other and have not been integrated.
"This is the first time a forecasting system combines all of the different tools that we now have to study hurricanes into one," said Graber. "The information we gather from this effort will improve the ability to set up evacuation plans and minimize the loss of lives and property damage."
Emergency officials rely on forecasters in deciding when to order evacuations and when to say it is safe to stay home. It currently takes about 84 hours to evacuate the city of Miami. Yet hurricane warnings are issued 24 hours before landfall, making the need for predictions with a longer time frame obvious.
The results of the proposed forecasting system will provide real-time information and predictions of up to 5 days in advance to the NHC, which will be able to issue timely advisories for the general public and federal agencies, including military and civil emergency response teams.
Computers are critical cogs in hurricane forecasting. Millions of readings of wind, air pressure, humidity, light, cloud cover and other variables are collected around the world -- from flights by "hurricane hunters" into storms, satellite images taken from space, and land- or ocean-based observation systems -- and put into computer models.
IBM is collaborating in the project by providing equipment and computational support and expertise to process and refine the massive amounts of data that are generated in the forecasting effort. Earlier this week, the newly announced IBM eServer p690 supercomputer, code-named "Regatta," was installed at UM to handle the computations.
The supercomputer is one of IBM's most advanced implementations of the powerful UNIX operating system. This is the first supercomputer of its type to operate in South Florida and UM will be housing one of only four others currently in the state.
In addition to providing the supercomputer, IBM will help implement the system and ensure the NOPP partners are able to access the information from the Internet. IBM will help optimize the projection models to run more efficiently, including enhancing the forecasting algorithms.
"The team Dr. Graber assembled has the expertise and now the computer processing power to predict hurricane behavior with more accuracy and more lead time than ever before," said Christopher Colonnese, the IBM principal investigator on the project.
Those who use the new forecasting system, such as the NHC, will ultimately review the products of this partnership.
NOPP is an innovative program that was established by the U.S. Congress in 1996 to assure national security, advance economic development, protect quality of life and strengthen science education and communication through improved knowledge of the ocean.
As a collaboration of 14 federal agencies, NOPP coordinates and strengthens oceanographic efforts by identifying and funding partnerships among academia, government, industry and other members of the ocean sciences community. For more information on the program visit this URL.
In addition to the University of Miami, the "Real-Time Forecasting System of Winds, Waves and Surge in Tropical Cyclones" partnership includes: the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service, Oceanweather Inc., IBM, Gigantic Computer Services, NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, The U.S. Southern Command, US Navy-Jacksonville, and Florida State Emergency Managers.
End users of the new forecasting system, such as the NHC, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and US Navy, will greatly benefit from the improved predictions.
KSC, for example, is the starting point for all U.S. human space flights and relies on accurate weather information to launch the Space Shuttle.
Several partners will bring their areas of expertise to the table.
The University of Florida (UF) has a long-standing area of emphasis on modeling effects of coastal erosion from storms and waves. Several different storm surge models are presently in use and related experience includes modeling tides, waves, currents and fluid-sediment interactions.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) uses its state-of-the-art computational facilities to study the impact of tides and hurricane storm surge on estuaries and coastal regions.
Scientists of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) are internationally recognized experts who actively engage in basic research involving microwave scattering, surface-wave hydrodynamics and air-sea interaction physics.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has conducted research activities in the field of surface waves, from field measurement programs, physical modeling facilities and, more recently, ocean wave modeling. The USACE operates a suite of numerical models to generate climatologies of winds, waves and water levels for all U.S. coastal waters.
NOAA's Hurricane Research Division (HRD) of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory is the nation's center and the acknowledged international leader in basic and applied research on hurricanes and tropical meteorology. In conjunction with HRD's annual Hurricane Field Program, the HRD's real-time Hurricane Wind Analysis System has become the standard for documenting hurricane landfall wind events in the Atlantic / Caribbean basin.
Oceanweather Inc. (OWI) is a private company that applies the latest technology to develop the criteria for offshore and coastal structural design. OWI has operated a real time forecasting division following a unique approach which optimally combines the traditional approach to weather forecasting, which retains the contributions of individual forecasters, and Oceanweather's high-level technology developed and applied so successfully in its hindcasting and consulting divisions. The system includes a global wind and wave forecast system and various high-resolution regional applications.
Gigantic Computer Services, Inc. (GCS) is the design force for interactive media and web-based work within the academic and research communities of the University of Miami and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Vero Beach, Florida. GCS focuses primarily on the creation of interactive software. GCS's knowledge of the marine and atmospheric sciences marks it as a visual force behind much of today's research efforts. - By Alexandra Ravinet
[Contact: Alexandra Ravinet]