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NASA satellites zoom in on hurricanes

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    News Release: 2003-121 September 10, 2003 NASA Satellites Sample Hurricane Ingredients to Help Forecasters Every year, from June 1 to November 30, the
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      News Release: 2003-121
      September 10, 2003

      NASA Satellites Sample Hurricane 'Ingredients' to Help Forecasters

      Every year, from June 1 to November 30, the Atlantic Ocean becomes a
      meteorological mixing bowl, replete with all the needed ingredients
      for a hurricane recipe. Forecasters who seek to monitor and
      understand hurricanes are increasingly turning to a cadre of NASA
      satellites and instruments, including several from NASA's Jet
      Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., that serve up a feast of
      information on these awesome storms.

      Typically, during the peak of hurricane season, from late August to
      mid-September, tropical cyclones of interest to U.S. coastal regions
      form around the Cape Verde Islands off Africa. NASA satellites are
      critical for helping forecasters determine if all of the ingredients
      are coming together to create a hurricane. If a hurricane forms, it is
      critical to know how strong it may be, and which coastal communities
      or sea lanes will be at risk.

      NASA provides researchers and forecasters with space-based
      observations, data assimilation and computer climate modeling.
      NASA-sponsored measurements and modeling of global sea surface
      temperature, precipitation, winds and sea surface height have also
      improved understanding of El Niño and La Niña events, which
      respectively tend to suppress and enhance Atlantic and Gulf hurricane
      development.

      Thirty years ago, meteorologists were unable to see the factors in
      hurricane formation and could only spot a hurricane with still
      pictures from the Television Infrared Operational Satellite -
      Next-generation (Tiros-N) spacecraft. Over the past 10 years, visible
      and infrared satellite sensors were the workhorses for monitoring
      hurricanes. Today, multiple NASA satellites exploit everything from
      radar pulses to microwaves for the purpose of enhancing forecasts,
      providing data to researchers several times a day.

      The first ingredient in the hurricane recipe is a sea surface
      temperature of at least 27.8 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
      Unlike traditional infrared satellite instruments, the Aqua
      satellite's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer E and the Tropical
      Rainfall Measuring Mission's microwave imager can detect sea surface
      temperatures through clouds. This valuable information can help
      determine if a tropical cyclone is likely to strengthen or weaken.
      The joint U.S.-French Jason-1 satellite altimeter, managed by JPL,
      provides data on sea surface height, a key measurement of ocean energy
      available to encourage and sustain hurricanes.

      Another necessary ingredient is rotating winds over the ocean's
      surface, precursors to tropical cyclone development. The
      NASA-provided and JPL-built and managed SeaWinds instruments aboard
      Japan's Midori 2, and NASA's Quick Scatterometer (QuikScat) satellites
      can detect these winds before other instruments, providing even
      earlier notice of developing storms to forecasters and scientists.

      Air temperature and humidity are also important factors. The
      JPL-managed Atmospheric Infrared Sounder experiment suite aboard the
      Aqua satellite obtains measurements of global temperature and humidity
      throughout the atmosphere. This may lead to improved weather
      forecasts, improved determination of cyclone intensity, location and
      tracks, and the severe weather associated with storms, such as
      damaging winds.

      Rainfall intensity is the final ingredient, and the precipitation
      radar provided by Japan for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission
      satellite provides computed tomography (CAT) scan-like views of
      rainfall in the massive thunderstorms of hurricanes. The mission's
      instruments probe young tropical systems for rainfall intensity and
      the likelihood of storm development. The mission also sees "hot
      towers" or vertical columns of rapidly rising air that indicate very
      strong thunderstorms. These towers are like powerful pistons that
      convert energy from water vapor into a powerful wind- and
      rain-producing engine. Once a storm develops, the mission provides an
      inside view of how organized and tightly spiraled rain bands are, key
      indicators of storm intensity.

      The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission provides tropical cyclone
      intensity information from the safe distance of space, allowing the
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane
      Center and the Department of Defense Joint Typhoon Warning Center to
      turn to it, QuikScat and other NASA satellites for early assessment of
      storms in the open ocean.

      The hurricane monitoring capabilities enabled by these satellites are
      funded by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, which is dedicated to
      understanding Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth system
      science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards
      using the unique vantage point of space.

      For more information and images on the Internet, visit:
      http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/0909hurricane.html . The
      California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.
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