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Jason Dunion
NAMMA Teleconference
with NASA scientists
July 26, 2006

My name is Jason Dunion and I'm with the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, FL. NOAA is pleased to once again be partnering with NASA in the field to coordinate our research of Atlantic Hurricanes. Coordinated aircraft research efforts between NOAA and NASA began in 1998 and this year's field campaign represents the 4th joint collaboration since then. The prior three collaborations have been extremely fruitful and we expect the same success this summer. The field activities that are planned will provide a unique opportunity to study an area of the ocean basin that is infrequently sampled by aircraft and yet generates numerous tropical waves?that represent the seedlings for many tropical cyclones each year. In fact, these seedlings account for ~60% of all tropical cyclones and ~85% of all major hurricanes that occur in the Atlantic. And yet, only about 1 in 10 of these tropical waves actually forms into a named storm. The reasons for this are still not fully understood.

Over the past several decades, the NOAA OAR's forecasts of hurricane track have steadily improved by ~1% per year. Unfortunately, its forecasts of hurricane intensity have not been met with the same level of success over the years. In fact, NOAA's advancements in predicting hurricane intensity lag behind those of track by ~15-20 years. Simply put, predicting how a hurricane will strengthen or weaken is a difficult task and scientists are still attempting to fully understand the many complex factors in the atmosphere and ocean that can affect hurricane intensity. For these reasons, NOAA's main focus this summer will be to closely examine hurricane intensity change by conducting its Intensity Forecasting Experiment (called IFEX) during its collaborations with NASA. The main goals of IFEX include:

  • Collecting observations that span the tropical cyclone lifecycle in a variety of environments;
  • Second, Developing and refining measurement technologies that provide improved real-time monitoring of tropical cyclone intensity, structure, and environment;
  • and third, Improving our understanding of the physical processes important in intensity change for a tropical cyclone at all stages of its lifecycle;

NOAA will conduct several aircraft research experiments in support of its IFEX program this summer. These experiments include:

  • Investigating how Saharan dust storms affect hurricane development and intensity change;
  • Studying how insipient tropical disturbances develop into hurricanes;
  • Using remote controlled drone aircraft called Aerosondes to study the very lowest regions of the hurricane environment;
  • Investigating the structure and evolution of hurricanes that make landfall and eventually decay over land;
  • and finally, furthering our understanding and interpretation of current and future satellite platforms that use microwave frequencies to measure surface winds over the world's oceans.

Two of these NOAA research experiments will be directly coordinated with NASA's NAMMA project this summer:

  1. the first is The Saharan Air Layer Experiment, or SALEX -this experiment will use NOAA's P-3 turboprop and G-IV high altitude jet Hurricane Hunters to investigate how dry dusty Saharan dust storms that contain strong jets of air can suppress hurricane development in the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. This feature, also known as the Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, moves out from the Sahara Desert into the Atlantic every 3-5 days in the summer and early fall, can cover an area roughly the size of the lower 48 U.S. states, and often travel as far west as Central America, the Gulf of Mexico, and South Florida. NOAA's plans include operating its aircraft from Barbados, St. Croix, and Bermuda to carry out this summer's Saharan Air Layer Experiments.
  2. the second coordinated experiment will be The Tropical Cyclogenesis Experiment, or GENEX -this experiment will use NOAA's P-3 Orion turboprop and G-IV high altitude jet Hurricane Hunters to improve our understanding of how a tropical disturbance forms (or doesn't form) into a hurricane. The processes in the atmosphere and ocean that lead to hurricane formation (?or non-formation) are complex and not well understood by scientists and this experiment is designed to help unlock some of those mysteries.

This year's NOAA-NASA field campaign will monitor storms from seedlings over Africa to mature hurricanes that might affect the U.S. coastline several days later. NASA will focus its efforts to study insipient tropical disturbances and the Saharan Air Layer over Africa and the eastern North Atlantic. As the "baton is passed" east to west from NASA to NOAA, NOAA (operating from Barbados, St. Croix, or Bermuda), will continue monitoring these same tropical systems, their possible genesis into hurricanes, and their interactions with the Saharan Air Layer. This summer's NOAA-NASA partnership will provide the most geographically expansive aircraft monitoring of tropical cyclones that has ever been carried out across the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. The NAMMA and IFEX programs will also enable scientists to closely monitor disturbances that originate over Africa and eventually impact the U.S.

NOAA and NASA scientists will use the data that is collected this summer to help unlock some of the mysteries related to hurricane intensity change in the Atlantic. Data that is collected will be incorporated into NOAA and other operational forecast models around the world to help improve forecasts of hurricane track and intensity.

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