Hurricane season provides companies with a chance to prove their technology

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be unusually active, with worrisome signs in parts of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

The big picture: While hurricane forecasters’ main tools are provided by the federal government — such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Air Force hurricane hunters, satellites and computer models — startups are playing a growing role in forecasting.

Zoom in: As it did last year, San Francisco-based Saildrone will be fielding a handful of its remotely operated, heavily instrumented drones, which resemble surfboards with sails, near and even into tropical storms and hurricanes.

  • Its research program conducted with NOAA scored a big payoff last year, when one drone in its fleet sailed into the heart of then-Category 4 Hurricane Sam.
  • The video it relayed back was widely shared, showing tumultuous, white-cap dominated seas.
  • The drones are being used to study an area of the storm that hurricane hunter aircraft cannot safely evaluate — the border between the turbulent ocean water and the air.
  • Knowing more about the exchange of heat between the sea and air could allow for improved hurricane intensity predictions.

Between the lines: In addition to NOAA and NASA’s imagery, venture-backed satellite firms, such as ICEEYE and Planet, can provide detailed imagery of a storm’s impact on land to help disaster assistance providers to analyze the damage, even far from the coasts.

  • Providers of synthetic aperture radar images, such as ICEEYE, can pinpoint flooding on the land surface through cloud cover, which can give them an advantage over purely visible imagery platforms.
  • In addition, private-sector weather and climate intelligence firms, such as, work to provide clients with information they need to anticipate and mitigate storm-related risks.
  • There are also an increasing number of private-sector satellite networks deployed or planned from operators like Spire and Capella Space, which could be used to enhance the data that flows into NOAA’s computer models used for predicting a storm’s path and intensity.

The bottom line: What was long a solely federal function, gathering data and predicting tropical storms and hurricanes, is now becoming more diverse, and hopefully, more accurate as well.

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