Published: 2008-04-11 11:29:00
Updated: 2008-04-11 11:51:19
Posted April 11, 2008
By Nate Johnson
Hurricane Charley surprised the southwestern coast of Florida in 2004, jumping in strength just a few hours before making landfall. That sudden and rapid strengthening caught a lot of folks by surprise.
This year, hurricane forecasters and researchers will be using a new technique to track hurricanes in those last few critical hours before they come ashore. It's called VORTRAC -- Vortex Objective Radar TRacking And Circulation -- and it uses the NEXRAD radars along the coast to provide updated storm location and strength information up to every six minutes or so. Currently, we rely on Air Force Reconnaissance flights to provide this kind of information, and while those data are very useful, hours can pass between flights.
The VOTRAC system marries the data from those coastal radars up with models of how hurricanes work to help identify the storm centers and track the wind speeds within the storm. Forecasters will now know much more quickly than before if a hurricane is strengthening or weakening in those critcal hours before landfall. The researchers that developed VORTRAC applied the system back to Hurricane Charley and determined that hurricane's sudden burst of strength wouldn't have gone unnoticed for as long, giving Floridians more time to prepare and a more accurate picture of what to prepare for. It's their hope that the system will benefit folks along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in seasons to come.
The system was tested last season, but this year, it will be used operationally for all landfalling storms in the Atlantic basin.