How much storm surge will a hurricane drive ashore? How much rain will a hurricane that lands on the Gulf Coast bring to places as far inland as Kentucky or the Northeast? When will a monster hurricane suddenly dissipate from a record-maker to a dud?
The answers to many of these questions often are tied to knowing how much moisture swirls in the atmosphere around a hurricane churning across the ocean.
This hurricane season, for the first time, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say they will use Global Positioning System technology to measure the dynamics of airborne moisture far offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and track the fuel available to ramp up tropical systems moving through the Gulf.
"GPS has enabled a revolution in the way we do a lot of things," said Seth I. Gutman, a physical scientist and chief of NOAA's GPS-Met Observing Systems Branch in Boulder, Colo. Better use of GPS to measure moisture for hurricane forecasting has been "a long time coming," he said at a hurricane conference at Louisiana State University on Tuesday.
NOAA and LSU researchers collaborated to install GPS weather stations on two offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico this winter. The stations will give meteorologists the first ever over-the-Gulf moisture readings, Gutman said.