Researchers sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have been making use of air-dropped autonomous sensors to study the ocean-going changes of tropic storms and hurricanes to predict the developments of future storms. The Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer (ALAMO) sensors are proving instrumental to hurricane research, measuring oceanographic phenomena below the ocean surface that can be compiled with standard computer-based prediction models using atmospheric temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction to forecast a storm’s path, strength, and speed. The ALAMO sensors travel to depths as much as 1,000 ft. beneath the surface of the ocean to make readings.
“Hurricanes like this have a devastating impact on coastal regions, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected communities,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. David J. Hahn. “Often, there is an intersection of military and civilian needs. If we can improve the lead time and accuracy of storm forecasts, it would give national and local leadership more time and detailed information for preparations, evacuation, or shelter-in-place decisions.”
Tropic storms and hurricanes feature wind speeds of greater than 150 mph and rapid changes in direction, making their paths extremely difficult to predict. Traditional modeling programs rely on the atmospheric properties of weather events to make predictions, rather than underwater oceanic properties. Through the use of the ALAMO sensors from the ONR, a large amount of data can be collected from underwater environments surrounding a storm. The sensors are dropped from the air by the U.S. Air Force’s “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft to enable oceanic readings in the area surrounding a tropic storm or hurricane. The data in instrumental in providing early warnings for residents in the path of the storm but also for maritime vessels, including U.S. Navy ships.
Measurements are performed with the aid of professors from the U.S. Naval midshipmen and members of the ONR. “Our goal is to improve ocean and atmosphere modeling and prediction for fleet operations,” said Dr. Ronald Ferek, a program manager in ONR’s Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department. “The real-time COAMPS-TC forecasts for Hurricane Irma help the Navy issue operational guidance for fleet safety, and improve understanding of the complex air-sea interaction processes that drive the intensity of tropical hurricanes.”