New use of Doppler radars improves hurricane tracking

Forecasters will test a new technique this summer that provides a detailed 3-D view of an approaching hurricane every six minutes and allows them to determine whether the storm is gathering strength as it nears land, according to a release from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Forecasters will test a new technique this summer that provides a detailed 3-D view of an approaching hurricane every six minutes and allows them to determine whether the storm is gathering strength as it nears land, according to a release from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The technique - known as VORTRAC for Vortex Objective Radar Tracking and Circulation - was developed by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

"With this technique, meteorologists for the first time will be able to monitor the strength of a hurricane every few minutes as it approaches landfall and quickly alert coastal communities if it suddenly intensifies or weakens," says NCAR scientist Wen-Chau Lee.

VORTRAC uses the Doppler radar network established along the Southeast coast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the 1980s and 1990s. Each radar can measure winds blowing toward or away from it, but no single radar could provide a 3-D picture of hurricane winds before now.

To test the technique, Lee and his collaborators applied VORTRAC retroactively to Hurricane Charley. Their technique would have accurately captured the burst in the hurricane's intensity, they reported.

"Our research shows that this technique can capture sudden intensity changes in potentially dangerous hurricanes," says NCAR scientist Michael Bell, a coauthor of the article.