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NASA Hurricane Animation Improves Storm Damage Prediction
New hurricane animation developed by NASA can help forecasters predict overall storm damage more accurately, thanks to a student intern science team that developed new computer graphics using satellite imagery.

Cyclone Heta as captured by the GOES satellite on Jan. 1, 2004. Cyclone Heta as captured by the GOES satellite on Jan. 1, 2004. Credit: NOAA
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The students used data from the NASA Quick Scatterometer (QuikScat) satellite, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, Jason-1 and Aqua to create accurate storm animations instead of the cartoon-like graphics seen on many television weather forecasts. The students were engaged through Develop, a NASA Applied Sciences program that extends science research to local communities. Develop student teams research NASA science capabilities relevant to community concerns and create advanced computer-generated visualizations demonstrating research results.

The team developed precise animations in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Region Integrated Climatology Products (PRICIP) project.

"You probably have seen hurricane animation on TV that looks like a pinwheel spinning over a satellite picture. What you see on television weather reports is an image of the top of the clouds,” said Jay Skiles, an Earth scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "Our team of students has taken accurate observations from the ocean surface and atmosphere from actual NASA satellite data and made more accurate animations of the actual storms," he explained.

Tracks of hurricanes around the world over time.Tracks of hurricanes around the world over time. Credit: NHC/JTWC/NASA
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Skiles and one of five interns who worked on the project will present their findings at 8 a.m. PST on Wednesday, Dec.12, 2007, during the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center South in Exhibition Hall B.

"By understanding past storm anatomies, it may be possible to predict destruction and damage of future Pacific storms as well as others around the world," Skiles explained. The students' animation uses real data to indicate the storm's size and intensity, according to Skiles. The animation shows real rain, wind and temperature data over maps of the Pacific Rim area.

"The students' animations, combined with other socio-economic data compiled by NOAA, will yield a better understanding of the potential for destruction that Pacific storms have," Skiles said. "That's the purpose of the project."

The PRICIP project may eventually become an interactive decision-support tool to assist decision makers as they lead recovery from natural hazards, reducing coastal vulnerability to storms, according to Skiles.

This is a satellite image of Typhoon Chataan on July 8, 2002 from NASA's MODIS instrument. This is a satellite image of Typhoon Chata'an on July 8, 2002 from NASA's MODIS instrument. Credit: NASA GSFC
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Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all ocean storms, and they form in different parts of the world. Storm tracks for 1980 through 2005 showed that cyclones and typhoons are more prevalent in the Pacific than are hurricanes off the eastern U.S. coast,” Skiles said.

"The PRICIP anatomies convey the impacts associated with extreme storm events and the causes of them to emergency managers, coastal planners, and the general public in a manner that is easy to access, understand and use,” said John Marra, coastal natural hazards specialist from the NOAA Integrated Data and Environmental Applications Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. “The NASA-Ames Research Center and the Develop team contributed significantly to this effort. From the PRICIP perspective, the content the students created was a great example of how diverse types of satellite data could be integrated and visualized. It also provided us with a wonderful illustration of the mutual benefits of collaboration."

"NOAA gave the students the names of the storms, and that's about it," Skiles said. "The students looked at about eight satellites and determined that four would yield the data necessary to show what NOAA wanted to see in the graphics."

For example, the students used Jason-1’s radar altimeter data to determine the sea level height, sometimes called storm surge, of all the storms they studied. According to Skiles, each satellite data stream required different processing methods and analysis. "So, that's why it took the students 10 weeks, or all summer of 2007, to complete the project."

"Because of the differences in data streams from the satellites, it probably is not possible to produce these animations in real time," Skiles said.

This is a satellite image of Super TyphoonPongasona on Dec. 10, 2002 from NASA's MODIS instrument.This is a satellite image of Super Typhoon Pongasona on Dec. 10, 2002 from NASA's MODIS instrument. Credit: NASA GSFC
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Skiles said NOAA is enthusiastic about the new hurricane animation and wants interns to continue to improve it. "At NOAA's request, this project will be continued in the summer of 2008, with new students," Skiles said.

The five students who worked on the project are Casey Teske, University of Montana, Missoula; Nicole Simons, University of Oklahoma, Norman; Josh Ingham, University of Idaho, Moscow; Frank Garcia, University of California Santa Barbara; and Seema Gupta, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. The mentors for the project were Cindy Schmidt of San Jose State University, San Jose, Calif., who works at Ames; and Jay Skiles of Ames.

The Develop Program began in 1998 when three students authored a paper titled "Practical Applications of Remote Sensing."

Related Links:

> Develop website
> Student Animation at the NOAA website

John Bluck
Ames Research Center