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Team Seeks More Advance Warning on Hurricanes

October 10, 2011

By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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Forecasters hope new research will give the public more advance warning of the birth of a monster hurricane.

Most tropical storms and hurricanes can be forecast only about two days before their formation. A research collaboration hopes to extend that forecast by 10 days or more.

The effort is timely as weather experts look for ways to combat deadly storms. This year`s storm season killed dozens of Americans and led to billions of dollars in damages.

Leaders of the collaboration between EarthRisk Technologies, a San Diego-based software and weather prediction company, and Colorado State University`s Tropical Meteorology Project say their efforts could help better predict when an Atlantic hurricane forms. Their methods analyze past weather information and use EarthRisk`s algorithms for forecasting the probability of extreme weather.

"EarthRisk`s ability to take decades of atmospheric data and crunch it into usable models that can then be applied to future cyclone events will be invaluable to our research," says Colorado State`s William Gray, the dean of hurricane forecasting.

The bulk of hurricane forecasting is done using computer models, says EarthRisk`s chief science officer, Steve Bennett. Those models analyze current weather data and project what will happen in the coming days.

"The models do a decent job, but there`s a lot of uncertainty with them," says Colorado State meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. He says using historical data will complement the information that comes out of the models.

The hurricane forecasts would be an offshoot of weather prediction tools EarthRisk developed this year. Known as TempRisk and HeatRisk, the software programs give advance warning of coming cold snaps, heat waves and extreme weather up to 40 days ahead of time.

Although Colorado State is best known as the pioneer of seasonal hurricane forecasts issued well before the season begins, the new techniques would be for in-season predictions of when and where storms might form.

It would be "updated in real time," Klotzbach says.

He says the research has just begun, but if it pans out, he hopes it could be put to use by next summer`s hurricane season.

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Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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Story image: This NOAA satellite image taken Friday, September 30, 2011 at 1:45 PM EDT shows Hurricane Ophelia located about 580 miles south of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds up to 115 mph.

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