Have you ever wondered how meteorologists track hurricanes, tropical storms and other severe weather? If you have, you have landed on the right page. Weather tracking is a sophisticated process that utilises many different tools that provide data for analysis.
Without weather tools, storms, hurricanes, and other severe weather systems would just appear suddenly. In the years before weather was tracked using advanced technology, forecasters relied on communications from boats at sea. Unfortunately, because of a lack of warnings, weather systems caused unimaginable damage to lives and property, and led to devastating circumstances such as scarcity of food and an influx of diseases.
Why Is Weather Forecasting Important?
Weather forecasting is important because it allows people, organisations and governments to plan for disasters and disaster risks. Major sectors such as agriculture, transportation, construction, and shipping rely on weather forecasts to create sector outlooks, schedule activities, and determine potential performance.
Agriculture is one of the most important industries in the world because it is the backbone of the entire food industry. This industry is very much dependent on weather forecasts, as farmers need to know what weather systems are coming and their timing. This then allows them to prepare and plan, and enact preventive measures where possible. In order to maximise their profits, farmers have to make calculations about crop durations and harvesting and thus sow their seeds with these timelines in mind. If they ignore any part of this process, there is the possibility that their crops will fail.
Weather forecasting, including temperature outlooks are very useful for farmers because they can inform them about the best times to sow their seeds. Also, meteorologists take the help of radar to see if a storm or hurricane is coming that could potentially damage the crops.
Transportation is another industry that is affected by bad weather conditions and thus heavily depends on weather forecasting tools. The aviation industry is one example of transportation that suffers during poor weather conditions. It is very common for adverse weather conditions to impact flights and upend travel schedules. In addition to totally disrupting flights, abnormal pressure and temperature can affect the plane’s behavior in the air as the lift is altered in such conditions.
Another sector that is vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes is construction. When constructing a building, roads or any other type of infrastructure, the preferred weather conditions are sunny with no rain and lots of humidity.
For example, if you are pouring concrete, the mixture requires a certain level of moisture to set and cure properly. Working with cement and concrete during a storm or light rain can be a barrier and will not let the concrete dry off, thus weakening the bond.
Again, weather forecasting is extremely vital for the shipping industry as well. Forecasts will tell you if there are chances of encountering a storm or a hurricane. Ships and other cargo vessels may be strong enough to deal with some instances of poor weather conditions. But, there have been many instances where strong storms and hurricanes have destroyed ships, and resulted in the loss of crew and cargo.
The shipping sector is very cognizant that storms can wreak havoc and thus they rely on forecasts to plan alternative routes, delay journeys and alert customers of potential delays of goods.
Tropical Storm Tracking Agencies around the World
To ensure minimum damage from tropical cyclones and storms, the World Meteorological Organization Tropical Cyclone Program has set up coordinated systems all over the world.
|I - II||Atlantic and Eastern Pacific||U.S National Hurricane Centre [RSMC Miami]|
|III||Central Pacific||U.S Central Pacific Hurricane Centre [RSMC Honolulu]|
|IV||Northwest Pacific||Japan Meteorological Agency [RSMC Tokyo]|
|V||North Indian Ocean||Indian Meteorological department [RSMC New Delhi]|
|VI||Southwest Indian Ocean||Meteo France [RSMC La Reunion]|
|VII - XI||Southwest Pacific and Southeast Indian Ocean||VII – Australian Bureau of Meteorology [TCWC Perth]
VIII – Indonesian Agency of Meteorology [TCWC Jakarta]
IX – Australian Bureau of Meteorology [TCWC Darwin]
X – Papua New Guinea [TCWC Port Moresby]
XI – Australian Bureau of Meteorology [TCWC Brisbane]
|XII - XIII||South Pacific||XII – Fiji Meteorological Service [ RSMC Nadi]
XIII – Meteorological Service of New Zealand [TCWC Wellington]
The above list shows you the number of Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC) and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres (TCWC) around the world.
Tools Used To Track Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
There are several advanced tools and devices that are used widely in tracking tropical storms and hurricanes. At the top of the list are:
- Saffir Simpson Scale
- Ocean Temperature Buoys
- Reconnaissance Aircraft
- Doppler Radar
- Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale)
1. Saffir Simpson Scale
The Saffir Simpson Scale is a tool that categorizes the intensity of hurricanes by analyzing their wind speeds. Using the tool, it only takes a minute to get the reading when 33 feet above sea level. The Saffir Simpson Scale has five categories of wind speeds, and these are:
- 74 mph to 95 mph: Will deliver minimum damage
- 96 mph to 110 mph: Chances of creating greater damage
- 111 mph to 130 mph: Can cause devastation
- 131 mph to 155 mph: Can bring catastrophic destruction
- 155 mph or higher: Expect absolute catastrophic results
2. Ocean Temperature Buoys
Measuring the temperature of the ocean can help meteorologists determine the direction of the hurricane or storm and will also give them an idea of its intensity. To measure the ocean’s temperatures, scientists use the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). This is a simple process, where a buoy is released from a plane and takes the readings.
Satellites are some of the most popular tools used to track hurricanes and forecast weather. When the satellites take images of the system, weather scientists analyse the images which allows them to assess and review the physical properties of the storm.
Buoys are another example of the most used tools for forecasting weather. Although they are not used to cover long distances, they are useful and can assess various characteristics of storms. Buoys can measure wind speed, air pressure, water quantities and air temperatures.
5. Reconnaissance Aircraft
Reconnaissance aircraft, which are sometimes known as hurricane hunters, are used to collect data from storms. These aircraft literally fly into the weather systems to measure their storms and hurricanes to properly measure their structures and intensity. There are various types of aircraft, which are deployed based on the type of system that may form or has formed.
Barometers are primarily used to measure air pressure. When a storm is about to hit, the barometric pressure in the air around area drops rapidly. If the pressure falls, that’s how you know that a storm or hurricane is coming. Observations from recent catastrophic storms reveal that the lower the barometric pressure, the more devastating the storm was. For example, Hurricane Dorian which hit the Bahamas had a barometric pressure of 910 millibars on impact.
7. Doppler Radar
The Doppler Radar is a specialty radar that uses the Doppler Effect to obtain reliable readings. It can give scientists an image and also an idea of the storm winds’ shape, intensity, and speed. When used properly, the radar can provide valuable data and thus help meteorologists to evaluate the movement and behaviour of storms with greater accuracy.
8. Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale)
It is quite difficult to measure the properties of an approaching tornado. However, because hurricanes can cause tornadoes to form, the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) is another tool that can be used for tracking. The EF scale characterises intensity and destructiveness based on damage that is observed in an area after a tornado. Using these observations, weather teams can then estimate wind speeds of the tornado. The tool has a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the most destructive, and thus results in the most catastrophic outcomes.
|F Scale||Character||Estimated Winds||Description|
|Zero (F0)||Weak||40-72 mph||Light Damage.
|One (F1)||Weak||73-112 mph||Moderate damage
|Two (F2)||Strong||113-157 mph||Considerable damage|
|Three (F3)||Strong||158-206 mph||Severe damage|
|Four (F4)||Violent||207-260 mph||Devastating damage|
|Five (F5)||Violent||260-318 mph||Incredible damage|
Turtles are small, powerful devices that measure and track tornadoes. They weigh about 40 pounds and contain a slew of instruments that measure air pressure, humidity, the velocity of the wind, direction, and temperature. Placing turtles requires skill and agility and fearlessness. During adverse weather and tropical storms, a brave person places the turtle in the path of an approaching tornado.
The anemometer is another tool that is used to track hurricanes and other types of weather systems. It measures wind speed and wind pressure and helps weather experts to assess weather patterns. The anemometer can easily notify users whenever it tracks a sudden surge in the wind speed. Anemometers are often installed in ships, meteorological offices, weather stations and airports. To work correctly, these types of anemometers must stand at a height of 20-25 feet to catch the wind. There are also hand-held anemometers on the market.
How Is Data From Tropical Storms And Hurricanes Analyzed?
Meteorologists invest a lot of time compiling data from tracking tools and analysing the readings. In addition, they review locations and historical weather events to better understand storm trends. These analyses can help them to determine how fatal a hurricane or a storm can be. Factors such as airflow, pressure, temperature, location, and satellite images are taken into consideration to determine the approaching storm’s shape, size, intensity and potential impact area.
Image: U.S Government