Two robots helping with science of hurricane predictions

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 2:58 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - New research happening just off the coast of Savannah could help forecasters better predict hurricane intensity.

Scientists launched a saildrone from Jacksonville to Gray’s Reef. It’s measuring things like air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, plus wind and waves.

Catherine Edwards, one of the lead researchers and Associate Professor Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, said, “It also measures the parameters we can use to calculate how much heat is coming out of the ocean. Ultimately that heat coming out of the ocean is available to potentially fuel hurricanes and tropical storms.”

While it’s here, a glider, a torpedo shaped robot, will be measuring under water temperature and salinity, to name a few near and right underneath it.

Edwards said of the project, “We’re going to try and keep a glider underneath this saildrone for the rest of its 90 day mission so we can collect collocated data near the surface of the water which is notoriously difficult to measure.”

A saildrone survived a category 4 hurricane last year, recording stunning video from inside the storm. It could have been even better with a partner.

“We send hurricane hunters through storms through the air, it’s really really difficult if not impossible to take high quality measurements near the air sea interface,” Edwards said. “So, if we have a saildrone doing that in real time, and a glider underneath measuring the surface temperature and salinity, we’ve got a really powerful data set for helping to improve the hurricane forecasts.”

The glider, nicknamed Franklin, reports back to people via satellite multiple times a day as does the saildrone. So, the two robots aren’t talking to each other in the ocean, but the data that they collect together is going to help determine how under water currents and salinity can positively or negatively affect hurricanes.

For example, in a low salty area of the sea, a hurricane can lose energy perhaps from hurricane to a tropical storm. Good for lives and property but also bad in a way.

Edwards says, “If you make your decisions about when you evacuate based on I’m staying for a three or leaving for a four, you might not trust the forecast next time around, you might be less likely to evacuate if the storm is weaker than forecasted, so rapid deintensification can be linked to, it can erode the public trust.”

The information collected now and in future storms will be married with current models like the European and the GFS.

“It’s tools like this that will really, that have already shown to improve our forecasting ability,” Edwards said.

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