HIGHLIGHTS OF NOAA’S 2004 HURRICANE RESEARCH
December 1, 2004 — The powerful hurricanes that caused chaos in Florida and other states this past hurricane season also served as a treasure trove of data for NOAA hurricane researchers working to improve hurricane predictions and understand the behavior of these often highly destructive storms.
Despite a very active 2004 hurricane season, NOAA Hurricane Research Division scientists and staff successfully supported their operational partners within NOAA and other federal agencies, while continuing with their own hurricane research projects.
Overall, HRD (part of the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory) provided hundreds of hours of support for both NOAA operational and research missions into Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. During the 2004 hurricane season, HRD participated in 54 NOAA aircraft missions and played a critical role in:
provided support for wind swath and landfall post analyses of each hurricane
for the Department of Homeland Security's HAZUS model for damage estimates.
The HAZUS model is FEMA’s advanced GIS-based risk assessment tool
used to provide critical emergency response information to key decision
makers both in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House.
"I think each and every one of us has to knows in his or her gut that we have done a fantastic job this season in support of the NOAA National Hurricane Center's forecasts and warnings, the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center's numerical model guidance, and for hurricane research. ... this has been an extraordinary year for our ability to support operations and for our research efforts."
In addition, NOAA facilities in Florida, AOML in Miami and the NOAA Aircraft Operation Center in Tampa, came under hurricane warnings twice, threatening colleagues’ families and forcing NOAA to add facility and aircraft evacuation planning into the mix of operational and research flights. In spite of these obstacles, HRD had many notable successes this year thanks to the total dedication of their employees and similar efforts from colleagues at the U.S. Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, the NOAA AOC and NOAA National Hurricane Center.
and Wind Speed Estimates
Also important was the onboard data screening of this SFMR data by HRD scientists. Further quality control efforts were completed at NHC using surface wind analysis made possible by HRD employees, who invested countless hours as each storm approached landfall. The collective ability to check the SFMR data against surface wind estimates from industry standard GPS dropsondes (devices that measure wind, temperature, humidity and pressure of storms), and to co-locate the instrument’s location in storm relative coordinates was crucial in establishing its credibility.
made a concerted effort to gather more than 150 real time GPS surface
wind observations and compare them to the SFMR surface wind observations
to show a mean error of only 2.5 knots. This analysis further enhanced
the credibility of the SFMR as an operational tool in hurricane wind observation.
(Click NOAA image
This wind speed data proved invaluable to NHC in providing the most accurate peak surface winds (i.e., strongest surface winds observed) and wind radii (i.e., how far the winds extend from the center of the storm) estimates ever recorded. The SFMR data also directly affected the timing and extent of warnings issued by NHC. Because of the SFMR capability, AOC flew more surveillance missions than previous years for surface wind observation whenever each of the four storms was within 48 hours of U.S. territory landfall.
Surface Wind Analysis Maps
H*Wind analyses and the HRD inland hurricane decay model were also used to generate real-time wind swath analyses so the Federal Emergency Management Agency could estimate inland damage. Members of FEMA’s Risk Assessment Branch also found the H*Wind products critical as input to their HAZUS model for all four of the Florida hurricanes.
Oliver Clifford, chief of FEMA’s Risk Assessment Branch said, “I would like to express our great appreciation for all the hard work put in by HRD in supporting our efforts to make significant improvements in estimating damages from landfalling hurricanes. HRD’s support of our efforts has been absolutely essential.”
Boundary Layer, Air-Sea Transfer Experiment Intensity Research and Ocean
HRD and its research partners also completed other CBLAST observations, such as NASA Scanning Radar Altimeter directional wave fields. HRD also was able to make crucial ocean thermal profile observations in Ivan and Jeanne, which together with the CBLAST observations provided an excellent picture of the upper ocean and surface conditions as the storms passed.
The University of Massachusetts Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler (the principal instrument used in the NESDIS Ocean Winds experiment), in combination with GPS dropsondes, provided vertical wind profiles used to document the atmospheric boundary layer near the air/ocean interface, revealing fine scale boundary layer structure never before seen in such detail. IWRAP, GPS dropsondes and the SFMR are being used together to characterize the impacts of precipitation and high wind speeds on these ocean surface wind estimates. This knowledge will help NOAA better understand satellite-based ocean surface wind estimates taken during limiting environmental conditions.