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After a brutal hurricane season, there's a silver lining: better forecasts

Jenny Staletovich, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

It also dovetails with the kinds of advances NOAA is trying to make in hurricane forecasting, Marks said.

The public, and emergency managers, now expect more precise predictions on when and how much force a storm will deliver, whether it's heavy winds or storm surge. A good example is a map it began issuing that shows when and where hurricane-force winds will arrive. For each map, a model runs thousands of scenarios.

"It's really where I think this whole process will go," Marks said. "Having been here in Miami in Irma with two sisters in Naples and a cousin in Clearwater, those types of things are really critical.

"We've been flying into storms for decades, but not a lot of that data would get into the model and make an impact," he said.

Researchers are also looking to explore areas with data gaps. At UM, a giant wave tank is looking at what happens when the ocean and air meet, a critical point of hurricane intensification. NOAA has also begun flying drones through hurricanes to get a better glimpse of conditions that storm sensors dropped from planes record at only a single point, using the drones on three successful tries during Maria, Marks said.

Underwater gliders also record ocean information to detect how hurricanes change the sea as they pass over. That information could help models detect changes during a busy season. Four deployed north and south of Puerto Rico collected data as Irma and Maria passed over, he said.

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The next big hurdle will be finding a better way to convey that information, he said.

"We're in an age of what we call the weather-ready nation. And we're the tip of the spear," Marks said, referring to the national appetite for weather information. "The nation can be ready, but not if they don't understand what we're saying."

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