Texas A&M researchers work to improve data used for hurricane forecasts

Updated: Jun. 13, 2021 at 3:58 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - With 71% of the earth’s surface covered by our oceans, the conditions of these bodies of water affect our weather substantially. That’s why scientists at Texas A&M’s Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) work on ocean observing systems that collect ocean data that is used for climate record-keeping and weather forecasting. Now, researchers at GERG are focusing on the Gulf of Mexico where all eyes are on the tropics during this hurricane season.

The researchers collect data through a variety of different systems that each play a pivotal part in weather forecasting. A combination of high-frequency radars lining parts of the gulf coast, ocean buoys monitoring conditions year-round, and ocean gliders all collect key real-time data that helps with hurricane model forecasts.

Texas A&M has 4 Slocum Gliders, one of which is named Reveille, that they service and deploy for special missions. The latest mission is for hurricane season.

Dr. Kerri Whilden is a researcher with Texas A&M’s Geochemical and Environmental Research Group that is based in College Station. She is one of the glider operators with the program. She explains “the gliders collect near real-time data in ocean features ahead of the storm.”

The Reveille glider’s three-month-long mission in the Gulf of Mexico will provide data in the upper 1000 meters of the ocean. The autonomous glider collects many types of data along its journey sending its data when it returns to the water surface every six to eight hours.

One parameter that is essential for Hurricane forecasting is ocean temperature. Kerri Whilden emphasized the importance of water temperature, “Ocean temperature is really important to know what is going on because that gives us an idea of the available heat which can be used to either strengthen or weaken a

Texas A&M Researcher works on Slocum Glider
Texas A&M Researcher works on Slocum Glider(Russell Keillor)

Texas A&M is just one piece in a much larger picture. They are part of” a much larger collaboration that are taking glider measurements in the Gulf of Mexico”, Whilden explains. GERG works with other academic institutions, government institutions, in addition with industry partners. One of Texas A&M industry partners, Shell released this statement:

“Shell is a proud, long-term partner with Texas A&M, supporting their vital work to help improve our knowledge and understanding of Gulf conditions and how those conditions affect the intensities and paths of storms and hurricanes. The data collected from the project is integrated into NOAA and National Weather Services’ models to predict how storms may move and make landfall in the Gulf. This helps everyone from communities and meteorologists to the offshore oil and gas and maritime industries to better plan and prepare for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Forecasters rely on the real-time data collected by these observing systems to create more accurate forecasts. Dr. Erik Nielsen, an instructional assistant professor specializing in numerical weather prediction at Texas A&M University says, “This is one of the great things about these systems, not only can we use them to protect life and property. But then we actually can go in and take the data that we see to improve that science and improve the protection of life and property.”

You can see the real-time data the observing systems collect on this website.

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