Katrina +5: Where is hurricane science now and where is it going? At Goddard, researchers are betting on supercomputing to give us an edge over nature’s deadliest storms
Scientists at Goddard’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) hope that supercomputer simulations of the global weather machine will eventually pay off with forecasts helpful in planning for hurricanes.
Since the notorious 2005 hurricane season that included Hurricane Katrina, “there have been tremendous advances in high-resolution modeling of storms,” according to GMAO scientist Siegfried Schubert.
Schubert says that researchers have reached new heights in detailed weather and climate simulation using Goddard’s Discover supercomputer. The star of the show is the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5).
GEOS-5 combines theoretical simulation of Earth’s coupled ocean-atmosphere system and real data from Goddard’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites. Clouds form and billow; storms evolve from moisture and heat; hurricanes scud across ocean basins.
In a recent record for lifelike computer simulation of Earth’s storm factory, GEOS-5 reproduced details as small as 14 kilometers (about 9 miles). That’s a smaller footprint than many thunderstorms.
The model was able to simulate important structures of hurricanes, such as the sharply defined inner “eye wall” and clusters of convective clouds that are part of the storm’s plumbing system.
GMAO researcher William Putman re-ran the 2005 tropical storm seasons using GEOS-5, an exercise known as “hindcasting.” The sea surface temperature drove, or “forced,” the process, just as in real life.
The GEOS-5 model roughly reproduced the actual number of tropical storms in 2005. That year, the Atlantic basin spawned 28 tropical storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 “major” hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).
What does this mean for you and me?
With continuing advances in both the power of supercomputers and more accurate models, the heirs to GEOS-5 should be able to produce decent seasonal forecasts. This means predicting how many storms will form, how many could be major storms.
Further on, models that account for large-scale patterns of circulation in the ocean and atmosphere could even help forecast the number of landfalling storms.
With such a forecasts, regions would at least have the option of preparing more effectively.
Check out the special feature on Katrina on the NASA website.
Watch, “Katrina Retrospective: 5 years After the Storm” below for a fascinating exploration of Hurricane Katrina from the perspective of NASA’s fleet of satellites:
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.