Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Students Join Science Team to Chase and Capture Tornado Data

Students Join Science Team to Chase and Capture Tornado Data

Newswise —
Their job is to take measurements of a tornado’s rear flank downdraft.

And yes, said several Iowa State University students who have joined Tim Samaras, a Colorado-based researcher who was named a National Geographic Society “Emerging Explorer” in 2005 and is a principal engineer for Applied Research Associates Inc., some adrenaline is involved. But that’s not why they’re driving instrument-carrying cars a mile or so to the south or east of the storms that have regularly blown across tornado alley this spring and summer.

They’re driving into rain, wind, lightning and hail to chase data: temperature, dew point, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction and exact location. The students’ measurements will be analyzed by scientists trying to understand more about how tornadoes are formed.

“We’re measuring air circulation near the tornado,” said Chris Karstens, an Iowa State graduate student in meteorology from Atlantic. “There are questions about that air’s role in forming tornadoes and in tornado longevity. We think it has a central role in tornadoes.”

Karstens, who spent five days on the road with Samaras’ crew last month, said he saw and chased about 12 tornadoes. Most were weak storms. But he saw a few that were a mile wide or bigger.

Bill Gallus, an Iowa State professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, said this is the third year Iowa State students have done field research with Samaras. They’re generally on the road throughout May and June. Students volunteer to be part of Samaras’ “TWISTEX” (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in/near Tornadoes/Thunderstorms Experiment, http://twistex.org). Those selected are usually experienced storm chasers and have done well in forecasting courses. The students are not paid, but their field expenses are covered. The students’ research is part of an Iowa State project supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and led by Partha Sarkar, an Iowa State professor of aerospace engineering and director of the Wind Simulation and Testing Laboratory.

The idea is to send students out to the field to learn more about how storms develop and evolve, Gallus said. They also learn about working with mobile instruments and taking measurements.

“They come back and they’re so excited about the data they can analyze,” Gallus said.

They’re also excited about the stories they can tell.

Brandon Fisel, a graduate student in meteorology from Hebron, Ind., remembers May 29 near Osborne, Kan. That’s when Samaras dropped three probes containing cameras and instruments in the path of an oncoming tornado. The probes took a direct hit and could yield the first measurements of wind speed at the bottom of a tornado.

W Scott Lincoln, a graduate student in environmental science from Alleman, likes to talk about the day he drove through a tornado that was just beginning to form. He didn’t know what was happening at the time, but the car’s weather instruments later confirmed the storm had begun to circulate over his head.

Jayson Prentice, a senior meteorology student from Terril, says his time with Samaras’ experiment can help him build his research resume for graduate school.

And what about the chase? Does it get scary when the storms kick up, as they have all too often this tornado season?

Well, said Karstens, most of the experiment “is just like you’re on a very long road trip” because the researchers drive hundreds of miles from storm system to storm system.

Prentice remembers the intensity of “a few moments when we were taking near-tornado windfall readings within a mile or a couple of miles of tornadoes. One tornado was over a mile wide.”

But, said Fisel, “the adrenaline is kind of going and you don’t feel scared at all.”

Besides, said Lincoln, the researchers aren’t “yahoo chasers going out for thrills.” They’re calling in reports to the National Weather Service. They’re recording as much data as they can. And they’re working to help scientists develop a better understanding of the deadly and destructive storms.


A Simulated Hurricane Helps Emergency Responders Prepare

By some predictions, this years Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be well above average: 15 named storms, eight of which hurricanes.

Ed McDonough with PIO MEMA said, "We're trying to prepare for the worst, historically we can say we've only had tropical storms in Maryland, but certainly history can be changed."

That's why local, State and Federal agencies held a hurricane simulation Tuesday.

McDonough also said, "We've worked on procedures to notify the public, almost like the tornado type notification, what they should do and how to protect themselves from very high winds."

Matt Bassett, with MDOT said, "It gives us as an agency the opportunity to coordinate without lives having to be put on the line, so when it does happen we're ready."

Officials urge everyone to be prepared ahead of time with a kit containing water, non-perishable food and blankets.

Hurricane season may catch companies off guard

After Hurricane Wilma churned through South Florida in 2005, Citibank was having trouble tracking down employees. Even though the company had detailed contact information for its workers, a hotline for them to call, and telephones countywide were working, many employees had only cordless handsets that required electricity to function.

With hurricane season upon us, businesses throughout South Florida are starting to dust off business recovery plans and mull such post-storm pitfalls. Citibank, for one, has been encouraging its employees to have at least one old-fashioned handset that doesn't need additional juice.

But after two years of relatively mild storm seasons, there are some indications that businesses might be growing complacent.

A recent Office Depot survey found that one in four small businesses do not have a disaster recovery plan. The excuses fell into three categories: no time, no money and lack of know how, said Tom Serio, director of global business continuity for Office Depot.

But planning can be as simple as creating a calling tree for employees and storing back-up disks in a zip-lock bag off premises, he said.

The consequences of not planning can be harsh. According to some statistics, about 40 percent of businesses that suffer a major catastrophe never reopen.

The last time South Florida saw a major hit was in October 2005 when Wilma swept through on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. The Small Business Administration reported almost 50,000 requests for business disaster loan applications from the tri-county area and ultimately made 16,622 loans worth $767 million statewide in response to the two storms.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting a ''near normal or above normal'' storm season this year, with 12 to 16 named storms, six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes.

Since the one-two punch of Katrina and Wilma, the business community has taken on a larger role in post-storm planning. The private sector has a seat at The Miami-Dade Emergency Operating Center, which spearheads recovery efforts.

During regular meetings, state and local planners have tackled such issues as how to ensure that business owners and their suppliers have access to offices in evacuation zones and how to deal with ATM outages that turn South Florida into a cash-dependent economy.

''FEMA has always looked at helping the public, but we also want to look at how to help the business community,'' said Frank Reddish, recovery mitigation manager at the Miami-Dade Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. ``The idea is to help the entire business sector to recover faster.''

As part of that effort, Florida International University is working on a website, www.bizrecovery.org, that would be a one-stop shop for the business community and state and local recovery agencies to exchange information ranging from up-to-the-minute damage reports to the availability of tarps at local home improvement stores.

''The main focus from our perspective is to prove a hypothesis that if the business community had a way to organize and muster its resources and share information . . . as a community we can recover faster,'' said Steven Luis, who is spearheading the initiative.

FIU estimates that if it could help just 5 percent of businesses reopen one week faster than usual in the wake of a storm, it would prevent $220 million in losses.

Luis, who is director for IT and business relations for the School of Computing and Information Sciences at FIU, hopes to begin testing the system this hurricane season in preparation for a wider release in 2010.

Speaking to a group of business owners during a meeting of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce last week, Office Depot's Serio said the best time to start planning for a disaster is when there's not one in sight.

''You have to do it while the sun is shining,'' he said. ``If you wait until the wind is blowing, you'll never do it. Avoid becoming a statistic.''


Coast Guard Announces Successful Launch of Nationwide AIS Satellite

WASHINGTON (HQ Publc Affairs) - The U.S. Coast Guard has announced the launch of an ORBCOMM concept demonstration satellite, equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) capability, from Kapustin Yar, Russia, Thursday.

The satellite attained a proper orbit and is expected to start transmitting operational data within the next three months. The U.S. Coast Guard Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) Project sponsored equipment on the satellite to test the feasibility and effectiveness of AIS message reception and reporting from space for ship tracking and other navigational activities. The launch marks an important milestone in the development of the NAIS project.

The NAIS project will improve maritime domain awareness for the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security by using the integrated network of AIS equipment and user interface services that display and exchange AIS-equipped vessel information for maritime safety and security. Data collected by the NAIS supports the nation’s maritime interests by promoting vessel and port safety through collision avoidance, and through detection, traffic identification, and classification of vessels out to 2,000 nautical miles from shore.

The NAIS project is being implemented in three primary increments. Increment one, fielded in September 2007, currently provides the capability to receive AIS messages at 55 critical ports and nine coastal areas across the nation. Increment two (with nationwide AIS transmit and receipt coverage) will provide the capability to receive AIS messages out to 50 nautical miles and transmit AIS messages out to 24 nautical miles along the entire coastline of the U.S. and designated inland waterways. Increment three will extend the coverage for receipt of AIS messages out to 2,000 nautical miles from shore. The upcoming satellite testing will assist in the development of Increment three of the NAIS project.

For more information on the project visit: http://www.uscg.mil/nais/, and for more information on automatic identification system technology, standards and carriage requirements visit: http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/enav/ais/