Wow, I Just Didn't Know A Hurricane Was Out There!

By: Dr. Marshall Shepherd , 11:41 AM GMT on August 06, 2014

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"Wow, I just didn't know a hurricane was out there......"

Said no one ever in 2014. However, residents of Galveston, Texas could say this. Their city was destroyed by the Great No-Name Storm of 1900. They had no weather satellites in 1900 (https://staff.ucar.edu/browse/people/7820/OSGC-00 0-000-009-242).

We can't even fathom not knowing that there are giant tropical systems barreling across the ocean with potential danger looming. In fact, as I am writing this, a line of hurricanes and tropical systems are taking aim at Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, a fairly rare sequence of events according The Weather Channel meteorologists writing on Weather Underground (http://www.wunderground.com/news/hawaii-hurricane s-history-typical-tracks-20140804). And Bertha's threat leaves the U.S. and Caribbean but looms for the United Kingdom.

The key point here is that Hawaii and the United Kingdom see those storms coming because of weather satellites. We take them for granted because the wonders of technology make them as routinely available as microwaves, cellphones, or television sets.

However, in recent years, critical satellites like GOES-East have been temporarily out of service. Luckily, we had a "spare" in orbit (see http://science.time.com/2012/10/30/flying-blind-am ericas-aging-weather-satellites/). The current fleet of geosynchronous (GOES) and polar orbiting satellites are aging. The United States is planning the launch of the GOES-R and JPSS satellites, respectively, but they are still a few years away. What happens if the current satellites go out? We can't just run to the trusty Home Depot for a new one like a lightbulb.

Yet, satellite data is crucial for monitoring hurricanes AND as input for the weather models.

After Superstorm Sandy, I found all of the "GFS vs Euro" debate hype to be rather amusing and overblown. Yep, the Euro nailed Sandy before GFS did. But, GFS is hammering the Euro on the typhoons in the Pacific this year. Satellite data is a significant reason why the current generation of models are so effective though I bet a random guy in the mall telling me that Euro is sooooooo much better than GFS probably has no idea what 4D Data Assimilation is. I digress and yes, our models in the United States need more computer horsepower, but they are still world class (different blog and WxGeeks show :)).

This Sunday (Aug 10 at Noon ET) on Weather Channel's WxGeeks we discuss the future of the United States Weather satellite program with two colleagues that see things very differently. Jon Malay, a former Lockheed Martin executive, sees GOES-R and JPSS solidly as our future. Anne Miglarese, CEO of Planet IQ, suggests that the government should buy satellite data from their constellation of satellites that will measure the atmosphere using GPS radio occultation. Their are Pros and Cons of both schools of thought (http://www.climatecentral.org/news/the-space-race -is-on-for-climate-weather-privatization-16243).

Join us for a discussion of these vital issues. I see a vibrant role for our private sector in the weather satellite world. In fact, that partnership already exists. I was a scientists for NASA Goddard for 12 years and saw how private companies worked together on GOES, GPM, TRMM, and Suomi NPP. Might commercialization play a role in the future? Likely so and it does now. We need to listen to the case and get out of comfort zones as Anne Miglarese suggests. However, we cannot be too itchy on the trigger either. Launching satellites is not trivial. I was Deputy Project Scientist for NASA's constellation mission Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. The value of weather information to models, hazard monitoring, and the vibrancy of the enterprise should not be jeopardized by uncertainty. Jon Malay argues that continuity is critical.

See where you come down on the issue after watching the show.

Also on the show, we Geek Out to some really cool 1-minute satellite imagery of tornadic storms and NASA's TRMM satellite cat-scans of hurricanes. We also have our Hail No and Geek of the Week segments.

I am really excited about this particularly show on Sunday. As producer Matt Sitkowski said, "It feels like a Sunday Talk show topic."

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Hurricane Preparation 2014




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I'm Expert Host of TWC's WxGeeks, Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at Univ. of Georgia and 2013 President, American Meteorological Society