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Neosho, Mo., Native Leads Successful Hurricane Study for NASA
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

News release: 06-070

NASA researcher Robbie Hood first experienced nature's fury in the seventh grade, when Hurricane Camille -- one of the most powerful hurricanes of the 20th century -- blasted the Southern U.S. coast on Aug. 17, 1969, taking more than 250 lives, destroying some 20,000 homes and costing more than $4 billion in damages.

Hood, a native of Neosho, Mo., was living in Picayune, Miss., at the time of Camille's devastation, and saw nature’s fury firsthand.

Today, she is a senior atmospheric scientist at the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, Ala., the world-class science research and education facility jointly created by Alabama universities and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. And with the 2006 hurricane season almost upon us, Hood is playing a key role in helping the nation improve hurricane prediction and tracking systems, in an effort to prevent further loss of life and property.

In July 2005, Hood helped lead a team of scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Costa Rica. There, they spent 28 days conducting the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes mission, designed to study “cyclogenesis,” or the confluence of rain, temperature and other elements necessary to spawn a hurricane.

"The mission was unbelievably successful," Hood said. "Of course, we study the weather because we don’t fully understand it yet. Many times, what we expect is not what we get. This time, we were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to witness the beginning phase of the unusual 2005 hurricane season. We were not expecting the tropical cyclones to be so intense or numerous that early in the season."

During the mission, the team tracked two major Atlantic Ocean hurricanes at the height of their power, witnessed the entire lifecycle of a tropical storm -- and documented a number of surprises about the violent lives of these seagoing tempests.

Hurricanes Dennis and Emily -- the largest storms ever to form so early in the Atlantic hurricane season -- were just two of the surprises. Hood and her team watched Dennis, eventually a Category 4 storm of fierce intensity, spring to life in a region of the Caribbean where such dramatic development is rare. They also tracked Tropical Storm Gert throughout its entire, brief lifespan, and captured astonishing Doppler radar imagery of Hurricane Emily, including "eye wall" storms rising to a rarely observed height of 60,000 feet.

"Emily is proving to be a fascinating case," Hood said. "A very tall, intense thunderstorm, with significant lightning, was embedded in the eye-wall, while the overall intensity of the hurricane was starting to decrease slightly. We are eager to examine the relationship of embedded storm behavior with total hurricane intensity change, and to learn whether these kinds of clues may be used to improve hurricane intensity forecasting."

NASA's ER-2 high-altitude weather aircraft overflew Emily and other tropical storms, while NOAA's WP-3D Orion aircraft flew directly into them. They carried a complement of instruments that enabled use of real-time, streaming storm data – an unprecedented benefit that gave researchers up-to-the-minute storm information and helped guide aircraft pilots even in the dead of night. The team also employed small, unmanned aerial vehicles, balloon-borne weather probes and several space satellites to record additional storm data.

Greater understanding of the cyclogenesis process, Hood said, could be vital to understanding how hurricanes evolve, intensify and travel -- the key to developing earlier, more accurate warning systems.

"No matter how technically advanced our society becomes, we're always affected by weather," she said. "But we are entering an exciting new era, building on a quarter-century of steady advances in Earth observation to improve weather prediction and offer other societal benefits."

Collation and analysis of the enormous amount of data compiled during the July mission is expected to continue through 2006.

Hood, who is one-eighth Cherokee, grew up near the Cherokee Nation's capital, Tahlequah, Okla. She earned a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science in 1977 from the University of Missouri in Columbia, and a master's degree in physical meteorology in 1980 from Florida State University in Tallahassee.

She joined the Marshall Center as an atmospheric scientist in 1987, after working for a year as a senior research associate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and prior to that as a meteorologist for RDS Corp. in Lanham, Md. Hood served as lead mission scientist in all four NASA Convection and Moisture Experiment, or CAMEX, research efforts. Conducted by NASA and NOAA between 1998 and 2001, the studies documented hurricane development, intensification and landfall along the Southern U.S. coast.

Hood is married to Michael Goodman of Arlington, Va., also an atmospheric scientist at the Marshall Center and principal investigator for the TCSP Data Management System in Costa Rica. Hood, Goodman and their family reside in Madison, Ala.

Co-founded and operated by NASA and a consortium of state research universities, the National Space Science and Technology Center conducts cutting-edge scientific study in various disciplines, including Earth science, space science, optics, information technology and propulsion. Its personnel also foster the education of future generations of scientists and engineers by working with and inspiring students and sharing time, resources and expertise with educators across Alabama and the Southeast United States.

For more information about the Costa Rica study, visit:

For more information about the work of the NSSTC, visit: