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Improving hurricane intensity forecasts with underwater gliders

Hidden ocean data make clearer hurricane forecasts

Gliders in the water can track currents for causing red tide and provide ocean data to improve hurricane forecasts.
Gliders in the water can track currents for causing red tide and provide ocean data to improve hurricane forecasts. (.)

A batch of underwater torpedo-shaped drone gliders will be off our coast just waiting to intercept a hurricane this summer.

Researchers are sending autonomous underwater vehicles in the path of frequent hurricane routes, to collect hidden ocean data that will help predict hurricane intensity.

This season 20-25 gliders will be deployed moving in a zigzagged line across the Gulf Stream from just offshore our coast and up through the mid-Atlantic according to Catherine Edwards, assistant professor of Coastal Physical Oceanography at the University of Georgia.

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography used this glider powered by batteries for a mission up to five to six weeks at Gray’s Reef off the Georgia coast.
University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography used this glider powered by batteries for a mission up to five to six weeks at Gray’s Reef off the Georgia coast. (University of Georgia)

She will be helping to deploy the underwater drones near the monitoring area along Georgia and Florida. Since AUV’s move slowly, at half a mile per hour, they need to be deployed close to the monitoring area in the Gulf stream.

Gliders uncover what satellites miss when clouds block the view from space. Ocean heat feeds hurricanes. Gliders measure the depth of the warm water in three dimensions, something remote sensing can’t accomplish.

Cool water upwelling from the deep ocean can zap the strength of storms. Gliders can report what conditions exist ahead of a hurricane by integrating real-time ocean data into the hurricane centers forecast process.

For Hurricane Irene in 2011, the track was forecast nearly perfectly but the intensity was overestimated to Category 4 when it actually came ashore as a category 1 in North Carolina.

Why was the forecast so off? Irene dropped the water temperature 18 degrees. Well higher than the average 2-3 degree upwelling typical of hurricanes. Irene’s mixed up cold water more than 30 feet below the surface essentially limiting its fuel supply.

Cold water upwelling post Irene
Cold water upwelling post Irene (wjxt)

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