NASA satellites improve forecasts

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NASA satellites provide researchers and forecasters with vital information regarding hurricanes, allowing for earlier and more accurate predictions of this severe weather phenomenon.

During the peak of hurricane season, usually from late August to mid-September, a large number of tropical storms form around the Cape Verde Islands off of Africa. Because of these storms' ability to grow into hurricanes and pound the U.S. coastal region, researchers and forecasters need information that can only be provided by a team of NASA satellites.

NASA technology provides researchers with satellite observation and data assimilation, which allows for computer-aided climate modeling. Data is collected regarding global sea surface temperature, precipitation, winds and sea surface height.

The Aqua satellite's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission's Microwave Imager detect sea surface temperatures through cloud layers, which is an improvement over traditional infrared satellite technology. The Jason-1 satellite altimeter also provides data on sea surface height, an indicator of energy available to support a hurricane.

On the Japanese Midori 2 satellite, the NASA-provided SeaWinds instruments detect rotating winds. NASA's QuickSCAT satellites also provide this data, which gives forecasters an earlier notice of developing storms.

To detect air temperature and humidity, researchers use the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instruments aboard the Aqua satellite. This helps determine cyclone intensity and tracks location and movement of storms.

A final satellite instrument employed for severe weather research is the Japanese-provided Precipitation Radar, aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite. This provides a unique view of rainfall within the hurricane.

Funding for the satellite capabilities is provided through NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a program that studies Earth as an integrated system from the vantage point of space.

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