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What Instruments Are Used to Track a Hurricane?

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hurricanes (also known as tropical cyclones or typhoons) are organized low-pressure storm systems over tropical or subtropical waters with cyclonic wind circulation. Certain environmental conditions must be in place for these storms to form, and there are also certain times of the year when hurricanes are more likely to develop. Because hurricanes can cause severe damage and death, instruments used to track hurricanes are important tools providing information that can help residents in the storm's path.

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites are frequently used to track hurricanes. Satellites can help scientists estimate the location, size, movement and intensity of a storm. According to NOAA, satellite images provide cloud imagery, sea surface temperature data and information on winds from cloud motions.

Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer

Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometers are attached to the wings of storm-monitoring aircraft. These instruments detect radiation that is emitted by the foam on the sea that develops because of winds at the ocean's surface. By detecting radiation, computers on the airplanes can determine the wind speeds that are present. This instrument is especially helpful because it provides a continuous measure of surface winds in addition to rainfall rates within a storm system.

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Acoustic Doppler Profiler

The Acoustic Doppler Profiler is a sonar instrument that provides information about wave conditions and velocities from the sea bed to the surface. Changes in these parameters can signal an impending hurricane, which is why this tool is important to weather forecasters.

National Data Buoys

NOAA's National Data Buoy Center (also part of the National Weather Service) develops, operates and maintains a network of data-collecting buoys and coastal stations. Buoys are placed at various points within the world's oceans. The information gathered by the buoys and coastal stations includes wind speed, direction, gust, barometric pressure and air temperature. Buoys also measure wave height and sea surface temperature. All of these are necessary in tracking and determining when and where hurricanes will strike.

Lidar Atmospheric Sensing Equipment

According to NASA, Lidar Atmospheric Sensing Equipment is a laser system that can measure clouds, small particles and water vapor in the Earth's lower atmosphere. Lidar, or light detection and ranging, uses laser light on aircraft to provide information in real time. The equipment measures the atmosphere by comparing the light scattered by two laser beams. The beams reflect off things like clouds and air molecules, which gives a measure of water vapor. Water vapor is the main component in severe storm development because it channels energy in the atmosphere. Tracking its changes is important because water vapor is the main energy source for the development of hurricanes.

About the Author

Kendall Olsen has been writing for more than 20 years She is a University of Missouri-St. Louis Gateway Writing Project Fellow and has published instructional materials with the McDonald Publishing Company. Olsen holds an Ed.S. in educational technology, an M.Ed. in secondary English curriculum and instruction, a B.S. in elementary education and a B.A. in art history.

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