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A Quiet Hurricane Season in the Atlantic?

The official start of the hurricane season in the North Atlantic was June 1 and most experts are predicting a relatively quiet season, pointing to relatively cool water temperatures in place and a developing El Nino in the Pacific.   El Nino can be thought of as a substantial warming of ocean water in the central and/or eastern Pacific which in turn alters global weather patterns.  Atlantic hurricanes typically encounter more hostile atmospheric conditions during El Nino events, limiting their potential to develop and strengthen.  Most of the inactive seasons in the Atlantic over the past 20 years have occurred during El Nino events.

Assuming that the seasonal forecasts are correct (which can be a leap of faith sometimes, especially since El Ninos can be difficult to forecast), an inactive season does not mean that the U.S. is significantly less vulnerable to a major hurricane landfall. The last major (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale) hurricane to make a direct landfall in the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma nearly 9 years ago (Hurricane Sandy was not a major hurricane at landfall);   this in an era of relatively high activity.  Conversely, Hurricane Andrew (1992) was a Category 5 hurricane that devastated south Florida; there were only 6 tropical storms or hurricanes that year!  Much has been written on this major hurricane landfall drought – most attribute it to luck.

Hurricane Ivan (2004)

Hurricane Ivan (2004) is one of the four storms being featured on Cyclone Center this month

To mark the beginning of the Atlantic season, this month Cyclone Center is going back 10 years to a time when major hurricanes seemed to come at the U.S. coastline every week.  We will begin the month by featuring four storms that caused substantial problems for the state of Florida:  Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.  34 people lost their lives and almost $19 billion in damages was attributed to these storms.    As the month progresses and our classifiers do their thing, we will cycle in other major hurricanes for classification.

Remember, your classifications will help us to improve our estimates of the strength of these storms.  This in turn will help scientists to understand how tropical cyclones have been changing over the last three decades.  Head on over to Cyclone Center and work on these major 2004 storms today.

- Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

Where did the tropical cyclones go this season?

In short – the western Pacific.

The Atlantic Basin was predicted by many to have an active season. But the season ended November 30th, and it was a very quiet one. There were 13 named storms in the Atlantic, of which two developed into hurricanes.  The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) Index is used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to measure the severity of hurricane seasons.  It considers the intensity and the lifespan of storms.  The 2013 Atlantic season was well below normal; the ACE index came in at 33, about 31% of the 1981-2010 average of 104.

Super Typhoon Dale-one of our featured cyclones this year.

Super Typhoon Dale (1996) was one of our featured storms on Cyclone Center this year.

On the other side of the planet, in comparison to the Atlantic Basin, the western Pacific appears to be the ‘hot spot’ this season for strong tropical cyclones. The western Pacific has seen 31 storms, 13 being typhoons (in this region, hurricanes are called typhoons). This makes the western Pacific season slightly above the 1981-2010 average of 26 named storms. The ACE index for the Western Pacific, however,  stands at 268.3 – about 88% of the 1981-2010 average of 302.

Typhoons such as Lekima, Usagi, Fransico and of course Super Typhoon Haiyan(Yolanda) will be recorded in the 2013 history book.  A super typhoon is a typhoon whose winds exceed 150 mph, equivalent to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

What has contributed to the strong activity seen in the western Pacific this season? A combination of the right ingredients is the answer. A tropical cyclone needs favorable conditions, such as moisture, warm sea surface temperatures, and lack of wind shear in the upper atmosphere in order to aid development. Based on the activity in the western Pacific, it is likely that those conditions were present much of the season.

The 2013 tropical cyclone season was bittersweet for many; those in the Atlantic were glad for a quiet season while many in the western Pacific were forced to make preparations all season. Our prayers are with those affected by these forces of nature.

Visit Cyclone Center to classify many storms including those past storms that formed in the western Pacific, such as: Supertyphoon Dale (1996), Super Typhoon Herb (1996), Typhoon Faxai (2001), Super Typhoon Mike(1990) and more.

- Davanna G. Saunders is an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  She recently joined the Cyclone Center team as a classifier and contributor to our social media.

Cyclones for Christmas

We wanted to post a cyclone-related, fun, festive blog entry for the 2013 Zooniverse Advent Calendar. However, in light of the recent typhoon in the Philippines we thought that perhaps it would be better to show you all the ways that you can help in the aftermath of this disaster. You can of course classify on Cyclone Center to help researchers understand the science behind these phenomena, but we thought it would be good to point you at more direct ways to help those people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

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Principally, you can donate directly to several aid agencies and their umbrella organisations. These include the UK Disasters Emergency Committee’s Haiyan appeal, USAID, Oxfam, and the Red Cross. To get even more involved there are things such as the Association of digital volunteering efforts for disaster response, the GeekList Typhoon Haiyan hackathon and activities on Open Street Map.

If you have other ways to help that you think we should share, then get in touch via the comments or via our channels on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

Super Typhoon Haiyan Threatens Philippines

Today we urge our Cyclone Center users to pause and send positive thoughts to our friends in the Philippines.

Evacuations are underway as Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) makes its way directly towards the country. Intensifying without restraint since Sunday, Haiyan is now a Super typhoon, which is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  Haiyan currently has winds near 170 kt (195 mph).

Super Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines Friday morning with Category-5 winds

Super Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines Friday morning with Category-5 winds

Moving west northwestward, Haiyan is expected to make landfall in the Philippines early Friday morning.  Because of the very warm water temperatures along her path, Haiyan is expected to maintain her status as a super typhoon through landfall.

With this super typhoon comes potentially severe damage.  Haiyan is likely to bring heavy rainfall, severe flooding, damaging strong winds, and mudslides into very heavily populated areas of the Philippines.  The forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center are encouraging evacuations across the country, especially in the central Philippines, in preparation for the biggest storm of the 2013 season thus far.  She is the fifth super typhoon to form this year in the western Pacific.

- Kelly Dobeck is an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  She recently joined the Cyclone Center team as a classifier and contributor to our social media.  

New Developments on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change

One of the goals of the Cyclone Center project is provide a more definitive answer on how tropical cyclones (TCs) have been responding to the dramatic changes that our climate is undergoing.  It is difficult for meteorologists to determine how strong tropical cyclones are getting because we rarely observe them directly, relying primarily on satellite data to give us a decent estimate of the wind speeds.  But as you can imagine, it is very hard to determine the maximum winds in a hurricane when you are in the hurricane itself, let alone flying more than 22,000 miles above it!  Our record of tropical cyclones is by no means nailed down.

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/images/indicator_figures/sea-surface-temp-figure1-2012.gif

Ocean temperatures have been warming, which provides more energy for tropical cyclones (Image from the EPA)

So people have some differences of opinion on what has been going on in recent years.  Perhaps even more interesting is what will happen in the future.  There are theories that predict the characteristics of tropical cyclones in future years as the rate of ocean and atmospheric warming accelerate.  Most scientists believe cyclones will be more intense as global oceans warm.  There are reasonable disagreements on the number of tropical cyclones forming, since the formation of TCs are sensitive to other things like winds and moisture in the atmosphere.

In the Atlantic Ocean, which of course is of the most interest to the United States and Caribbean nations, the traditional view is that storms will be stronger but less frequent.  A recent study by Kerry Emanuel, a well-respected tropical meteorologist, suggests that we may not be so lucky.  Using the latest high-resolution computer models that simulate TC-like circulations, his results show a 40% increase globally in the strongest TCs (Category-3 or higherand an increase in numbers of TCs in several basins including the North Atlantic.  One has to always be cautious of computer model projections, and it remains to be seen if further evidence comes out to support Emanuel’s conclusions.  But we can accept without doubt that the threat of TCs will remain.

The work of citizen scientists like you on Cyclone Center is already producing results that will help rectify differences in the historical TC record.  As for the future, we’ll just have to wait a little bit on that.

- Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

A Better Cyclone Center

Cyclone Center has recorded over 210,000 classifications from citizen scientists around the world since its launch in September 2012.  But we’re not resting on our laurels; the site has undergone significant changes that we think will make your experience classifying storms even  more rewarding. Highlights of the new site include:

1. Targeted storm choices.  Choose your favorite storm to classify from a list of four storms that we’d like you to focus on.  These storms will change frequently as you help us complete each one.  Featured in the early sets of storms will be at least one storm from the historic 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, including Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.  Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, click the “Classify a random storm” button and get a mystery storm!

New selection menu for Cyclone Center

New selection menu for Cyclone Center

2. Inline classification guidance.  Gone are the days of clicking on question marks to get help.  For each step in the process, you will be shown information on how to best answer the question.  Even though you have been doing great, we think this will give you more confidence in what you are doing and hopefully inspire you to do more!

3. Improved tutorial.  Haven’t classified in a few weeks?  Now you can access our improved tutorial at any time for a refresher.

4. More questions to answer.  For each storm, go beyond the “choose the closest picture” to answer a couple of more questions like where the center of the storm is or how cold the clouds are around the eye.  This used to be called “Detailed Classification”; your responses help us to better pinpoint how strong the storms are.

5. Real time feedback on your classification.  Now instead of waiting for 6 images to see the “Storm Stats” page, you will immediately go there after your first image.  Now available on this much improved page is the storm track, the location of the storm you just classified, and our estimate of the wind speed of the storm based on your answers.  

Real time feedback

Real time feedback on your work is now given after each image

6. Upgraded Talk forum.  “Talk” is how you can discuss interesting storms with others or us.  The upgraded version allows for better searching and highlights more of the interesting discussions going on between other citizen scientists.

7. Better connections to social media.  Direct links to Facebook and Twitter are now available on every storm on the home page.  Click and discuss storms with your social communities or invite others to participate!

Log in to Cyclone Center today and give the new version a try – we think you’ll like the changes.  As always, please let us know what you think by commenting on this blog entry or through Talk!

- Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

Seasonal Tropical Cyclone Forecasts Are Coming In – But Are They Worth It?

Citizen scientists working on Cyclone Center are working with a few thousand tropical cyclones which have developed since 1978.  Beginning just a few years later, Dr. Bill Gray at Colorado State University (CSU) first began issuing forecasts for the number of tropical cyclones that will develop in the Atlantic Ocean for the upcoming Atlantic season (June 1 – November 30 each year).  Since that time, several other groups, including the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have also developed similar techniques to predict seasonal activity.  With the official start of the Atlantic season just a couple of weeks away, this year’s predictions are in.

Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew, a devastating Category-5 storm, occurred during an extremely quiet Atlantic hurricane season.

The CSU forecast, issued in April of this year,  predicts 18 named storms (those achieving at least Tropical Storm strength), 9 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes (Saffir-Simpson Category 3 or higher).  This is well above the long-term average for the Atlantic.  The NOAA forecast, which relies on similar parameters to predict activity (e.g. warm ocean temperatures, El Nino phase),  puts the chances of an active season at 70%.  Groups in other parts of the world also produce seasonal forecasts for their own region.  For example, the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia issues a national as well as regional seasonal outlooks.   Recently, other groups such as the United Kingdom Met Office have begun issuing “dynamical” forecasts, which explicitly count tropical cyclone-like features in weather models rather than relating environmental conditions to past activity.

Seasonal forecasts receive quite a bit of publicity, despite questions about their skill and usefulness.    Statistical schemes such as the CSU forecast, rely on past connections between environmental factors and TC activity.  They fail especially in predicting extreme seasons, such as the 1995 or 2005 Atlantic seasons, because the models just don’t know about hyperactive years like that.   Dynamical predictions, which theoretically can predict record breaking years since they do not rely on past seasons, have been shown to have better predictive skill than statistical techniques for seasonal TC prediction.

But even if a model were 100% accurate, would it really make a difference?  The majority of systems that do develop into tropical cyclones do not affect land.  Predictions of landfall are made by several groups but have not shown any skill so far.  For any given location of coastline, the chances of a TC impact in any given year are very small.  So if a homeowner hears that the upcoming season will be active, should any action be taken?  Does it really matter if we’re going to get 12 storms this year or 11?  Remember that some of the most devastating hurricane events in U.S. history, such as Andrew in 1992,, occurred during inactive seasons.  In the end, how do seasonal forecasts help society?

One could argue that any publicity that gets people to assess their readiness is good – but I think that most will not do anything.   Perhaps more effort should be invested in determining how the nature of tropical cyclones will change in our warming world.  Cyclone Center is going to provide researchers with new data that will help determine if and by how much the nature of global tropical cyclone activity has been recently changing.  With stronger tropical cyclones predicted in the Atlantic and other parts of the world – along with rising sea levels – time and energy is better spent developing plans for mitigation for the big ones rather than issuing forecasts with little or no value for coastal residents.

- Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

CycloneCenter active all year long

Even though the 2012  Atlantic Hurricane season has passed, CycloneCenter is still up and running, and is making progress through not only classifications on the website, but also promoting awareness to the public as well.

Last week members of the CycloneCenter science team attended the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Massachusetts. There we got to engage with members of the science community, as well as the media. As a result, CycloneCenter has appeared in many different articles on websites, including Discovery News, Seattle Times, and even the French Embassy! It’s great to see that the media is focusing on citizen science. Without you, our efforts would not be possible!

In addition, we have recently passed the 150,000 classification mark! We once again thank you for your participation, and want to remind you to keep on classifying!

CycloneCenter presents at another conference: AMS Annual Meeting

Photo Jan 07, 16 21 11While there are only some results to talk about, the CycloneCenter science team is still active in presenting at national conferences. Last month was the AGU annual meeting, and this month was the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Ken Knapp of NCDC presented an overall view about the science of CycloneCenter to a nearly packed group of tropical meteorologists. There was a lot of interest in the subject, including some chatter on the official AMS twitter account. This is a great example of how powerful social media can be.

Speaking of which, don’t forget that we have our own Twitter account, as well as a Facebook page. Make sure to like / follow us, as well as tell your friends and colleagues!

Tales from the road… AGU Fall Meeting

CycloneCenter.org was presented for the first time today at a major scientific meeting. This was the Fall Meeting for the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a gathering of over 20,000 scientists in San Francisco. The talk was in a session devoted to research by Citizen Scientists like you!

286645_471878492864322_1548046956_oA lot of other scientists were excited about the potential this Cyclone Center has. Together we’ll be able to answer some important questions about the climatology of tropical cyclones. And along the way, we get to interact with you! We also got some great suggestions on how we, the Science Team, can make it easier for you to interact with us. So keep a lookout for some big things we’ll be trying in the coming weeks!

Thank you for all your hard work on Cyclone Center and keep it up!

http://www.cyclonecenter.org

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