New technology helps hurricane forecasts

Forecasters still have trouble predicting intensity

Published  4:19 PM HST Sep 10, 2012
HONOLULU -

Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Iniki.

It hit the islands as a Category 4 storm causing $2 billion in damage.  After 20 years, are we any better off in forecasting potentially deadly storms?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says much has changed.

The eye of Iniki poised over the Hawaiian Islands on Sept. 11, 1992 -- a day few in the islands will ever forget.  Forecasters say storm tracking technology has improved dramatically since then.

"The models that we had were faxed paper copies.  They were faxed to us from Washington D.C.  You get this paper copy and you hope it came out of the machine okay because they couldn't resend it," said Robert Ballard, NOAA's Science and Operations Officer.

In 1992, there was only one satellite that had to cover both the Pacific and Atlantic basins, so Hawaii was right on the edge of the imagery.

"We also have much higher resolution imagery with different types of imagery now that we didn't have back then, like microwave imagery and four doppler radar we didn't have back then," said Ballard.

But, with all the new technology available, Ballard says it is the core of the hurricane that still mystifies forecasters.

"We still struggle with [predicting the intensity].  Iniki intensified rapidly when it was making the turn south of the islands that caught forecasters off guard and I can't say that in 2012 that wouldn't catch us off guard too," said Ballard.

Where were you and what were you doing when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992?  Join our conversation on Facebook.

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