Hurricane watchers can storm fed Web sites

As Hurricane Bonnie approached the Southeastern coastline last week with winds of 115 mph and heavy rain, several government World Wide Web sites provided users with detailed information.

The National Hurricane Center's (NHC) Web site at www.nhc.noaa.gov should be the best place to start for the latest hurricane information.

But the site was so busy last week that it was impossible to log on during normal business hours. As the hurricane season gears up— at week's end, Hurricane Danielle was a threat in the Caribbean— it would be helpful if the NHC were to upgrade its servers. When you could manage to get on the site, you could find a plethora of graphics and text-based information on Bonnie.

For example, clicking on Latest Cyclone Advisories and then Tropical Cyclone Advisories revealed lots of information on Bonnie. Clicking on Forecast Advisory showed which states were under a hurricane watch or warning. As of last Monday, areas from Savannah, Ga., to the North Carolina/Virginia border were under a hurricane watch.

Under Graphics, you could find not only pictures from satellites and graphical representations of the hurricane but also detailed descriptions. The page featured the latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) picture of Bonnie, showing the storm last week as a large, swirling mass of clouds without a well-defined eye.

Unique to this site is a Cumulative Wind Distribution chart that showed how the size of the storm changed, with the areas affected by tropical storm winds represented in orange and hurricane-force winds represented in red. Also on the site is an experimental product that charted the forecast of the maximum wind speed and the probability of whether the wind speed would be higher or lower than the forecast. The chart was a little technical, but it provided detail not available elsewhere.

The NHC site also provided boaters and pilots with data such as the high-seas forecasts and wind forecasts. And the NHC site provided links to other sites, including the Hurricane Hunters' home page at www.hurricanehunters.com. This group is a squadron of the Air Force Reserve that flies into tropical storms and hurricanes to study and record activity.

Another good site for severe-weather information is the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web page at www.fema.gov. While the FEMA page is not as comprehensive as the NHC page, it is easy to get around, and the site provides a good mix of background information on hurricanes in general, along with updates on Bonnie. You can even check out pictures of FEMA's National Emergency Support Team at work preparing for a potential disaster.

For specific details on Bonnie and other tropical storms, the place to go was www.fema.gov/fema/trop.htm. If you clicked on Current Atlantic/Gulf Satellite Image, you would see the same GOES satellite picture of Bonnie that was provided on the NHC site. For a more colorful, but less detailed, representation of the hurricane, you could click on Track— Hurricane Bonnie. This page plotted Bonnie's course. Meanwhile, Watches and Warnings— Hurricane Bonnie depicted areas under a hurricane warning in red and those under a hurricane watch in yellow.

And if you wanted to know whether the center of Bonnie would hit your coastal town, Strike Possibilities could give you the odds.

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