Eye to eye with Irene

MM Hurricane Irene
NSSL's Mobile Mesonet is prepared to take weather measurements of Hurricane Irene as it makes landfall.

NOAA and University of Oklahoma researchers are in North Carolina to deploy two mobile radars and a state-of-the-art instrumented vehicle to intercept Hurricane Irene. They are joining research teams from across the United States to collect an unprecedented hurricane dataset to better understand these devastating storms and protect lives and property. The team includes researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, the University of  Oklahoma (OU), and the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at OU.

Hurricanes are notorious producers of torrential rain. This combined with fierce winds, driving water and waves onshore, can cause devastating flooding even many miles inland.

Scientists will use the unique dataset from this storm to help improve techniques for estimating rainfall in extreme weather events, which will increase the accuracy of flood and flash flood forecasts and warnings. Researchers also want to understand severe turbulence and wind bursts in the hurricane near the ground to help set building code guidelines in hurricane prone areas.

Both mobile radars from the University of Oklahoma are equipped with dual-polarization technology that provides more accurate estimates of precipitation type and amount. This will be the first hurricane for the National Science Foundation-funded Rapid Scan X-band dual polarized radar (RaXPOL), which is sensitive enough to detect cloud particles. The storm intercept Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radar (SMART-R 2) uses a different frequency and detects precipitation.

Data from one of the mobile radars will be available online for public real-time viewing while it is gathering data: http://smartr.metr.ou.edu/smartr2/img.

Researchers plan to compare mobile radar data with the NOAA National Weather Service NEXRAD radar in Newport/Morehead City, N.C., recently upgraded with dual-polarization technology. It will be the first time three radars transmitting at three different frequencies will be operating simultaneously to scan a land-falling hurricane. Since each radar reveals different features of the storm, researchers will be looking for new clues in the rainfall characteristics of hurricanes.

In addition, a number of new weather instruments fixed to a vehicle will be tested during the deployment. Other teams will deploy a variety of sensitive weather instruments to measure clouds, size and speed of raindrops, infrared radiation, static electricity, turbulence, and wave surges.

For their own safety, the NOAA/University of Oklahoma team will choose a site designed to withstand Category-5 hurricane storm surge and will anchor their vehicles.

A SMART-R radar intercepted Tropical Storm Gabrielle in 2001, Hurricane Lilli in 2002, Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Frances in 2005. A mobile radar was also deployed during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and made the first dual-polarized scans of a hurricane eyewall.

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CI-FLOW provided useful predictions of total water level during Hurricane Irene

Irene CIFLOW
CI-FLOW predicted water levels above sea level (ft) issued at 1500 UTC 27 August 2011 (approximately at time of hurricane landfall) overlain with Hurricane Irene's track in coastal eastern North Carolina. Maximum predicted water levels occurring on the western side of the barrier islands of 6-8 feet compared within +/- 1 foot of the observations. Highest predicted inundation amounts occur in the Neuse and Tar River outlets to the Pamlico Sound.

The Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project began producing real-time 84-hour simulations of total water level in coastal North Carolina from Hurricane Irene on August 23, 2011.  CI-FLOW is the first system to capture the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows, and storm surge to produce total water level simulations.  Hurricane Irene made landfall near Morehead City, N.C.

Impressive predictions of water level and inundation are shown in the image to the left.  This information was available to forecasters before landfall.  CI-FLOW total water level simulations were compared with water levels observed during the storm.  Researchers found a high level of agreement in both the timing and water level heights for the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River coastal watershed.

The Raleigh NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) shared CI-FLOW information with critical decision makers in briefings and conference calls, including highlighting the CI-FLOW predictions displayed on the public domain Coastal and Emergency Risks Assessment (CERA) web site.  A Raleigh WFO said: “Several of us referred to and viewed various CI-FLOW products. The one product I used the most was the storm surge simulation.”  A forecaster from the Newport/Morehead City WFO said, “I received a call for a storm surge forecast from the Emergency Management office at MCAS Cherry Point early Thursday morning. I relayed to them an expected water level height of 6-8 feet there based on the forecast hydrograph at that location during that time. I did stress that the information was to be used as guidance only given the experimental nature of the data, but I felt comfortable enough with the forecast based on my personal experience of observing water levels on the Neuse to consider it reasonably reliable.”

The North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue has stated preliminary losses from Hurricane Irene topped $400 million.  President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for coastal North Carolina.  Hurricane Irene inflicted some of its worst damage in that state by pushing the water from the estuarine sounds up against the western edge of the barrier islands and the Tar and Neuse river outlets to the Pamlico Sound.

A diverse group of local, state, regional, academic and federal partners, and emergency management communities formed CI-FLOW with a united goal to improve flood predictions and warnings. The consortium includes NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas Sea Grants, National Sea Grant, University of Oklahoma, Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Seahorse Consulting, NWS Forecast Offices in Raleigh, and Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, NOAA-IOOS, DHS-DIEM, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and NOS Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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CI-FLOW produced accurate total water level predictions from Irene

Hurricane Irene heads for the Outer BanksThe Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project began producing real-time 84-hour simulations of total water level in coastal North Carolina from Hurricane Irene on Tuesday, August 23.  Hurricane Irene made landfall near Morehead City, N.C.

CI-FLOW total water level simulations were compared with water levels observed during the storm.  Researchers found a high level of agreement in both the timing and water level heights for the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River coastal watershed.

CI-FLOW is the first system to capture the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows, and storm surge to produce total water level simulations.

CI-FLOW’s unique interdisciplinary team is lead by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and includes North Carolina, South Carolina, & Texas Sea Grant Programs, National Sea Grant, Renaissance Computing Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma, NWS Offices in Raleigh & Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and National Ocean Service Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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CI-FLOW total water level system prepared for test by hurricane

Forecast track for Hurricane Irene
Forecast track for Hurricane Irene as of 8:00 EDT 8/24/11

Researchers with the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project are preparing for Hurricane Irene to test their total water level prediction system in North Carolina later this week. The CI-FLOW system captures the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows and storm surge to produce total water level simulations that will improve forecasts for inland and coastal flooding events to help users react, respond, and recover.

The CI-FLOW system is currently focused on the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse river basins of North Carolina but the goal is to transition CI-FLOW research and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds.

The CI-FLOW computing environment routinely collects weather, river, tide and ocean observations to be used in an interactive exchange between atmospheric, river and ocean models.

The CI-FLOW project addresses a critical NOAA service gap:  routine total water level predictions for tidally-influenced watersheds and has a vision to transition CI-FLOW research findings and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds. This real-time demonstration will offer valuable insight on the accuracy and utility of total water level predictions for communities in the coastal plain of the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse Rivers and the Pamlico Sound.

CI-FLOW’s unique interdisciplinary team is lead by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and includes North Carolina, South Carolina, & Texas Sea Grant Programs, National Sea Grant, Renaissance Computing Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma, NWS Offices in Raleigh & Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and National Ocean Service Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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