News Archive

posted 10/01/04

Modeling Hurricanes
IRI scientist maps probabilities

camargo

Suzana Camargo, a research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI), uses atmospheric data to create experimental hurricane forecasts that can be used to identify year-to-year variations, and ultimately develop tools to predict hurricane landfall probabilities.

The birth of a hurricane requires the right combination of ocean water temperature and wind patterns. Suzana Camargo, a research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI) uses this atmospheric data to create experimental hurricane forecasts that can be used to identify year-to-year variations, and ultimately develop tools to predict seasonal hurricane landfall probabilities.

In her work, Camargo uses a combination of IRI dynamical climate models to create low-resolution outputs and look for possible storms. “Our forecasts differ from other models because they are based on both dynamical and statistical data,” she said. Camargo examines 48 different scenarios for each season using different atmospheric and oceanic conditions.

As many as twelve Atlantic hurricanes can develop over a season, with an average of six Atlantic hurricanes per season, but few make landfall. One of Camargo’s goals is to improve and develop forecasts that give coastal communities in hurricane zones more time to prepare.

“Tropical cyclones are a major hazard for many societies, resulting all too often in catastrophic losses of life and property,” says Steve Zebiak, Executive Director of IRI. “Suzana's important work is helping us to understand better what we can and cannot predict about the changing risks of cyclone related hazards, and to develop forecast tools and products that will enable better management of those risks. It is a key contribution to the IRI research agenda.”

“Watching the Florida hits in this hurricane season stresses the importance of better understanding and preparedness for hurricanes and that can only be done through extensive research,” said Camargo. “I follow the storms closely, checking on the National Hurricane Center website (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/) many times a day. I would love to experience a hurricane in a safe environment, as long as it is on firm land, not on airplane or ship.”

Hurricanes, like other weather phenomena, are affected by changes in sea surface temperature that result from El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and this is an area of study for Camargo. “During an El Niño event, hurricanes in the Atlantic tend to be fewer in number,” Camargo said.

Camargo forecasts cover five regions: Western North Pacific, Eastern North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Pacific, and the Australian Region. The general name for these storms is "tropical cyclones." When they are weak, they are called tropical storms; when stronger they have different names according to the region where they exist: hurricanes (North Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific), typhoons (Western North Pacific), cyclones (other regions). Tropical cyclones in these areas are mainly generated during the late summer and fall season, roughly June to November in the Northern Hemisphere and December to March in the Southern Hemisphere.

Camargo, a native of Brazil, received her Ph.D. in plasma physics from the Munich Technical University, but became fascinated with climate models while working at IRI. “My research is related to improving these forecasts by gaining a better understanding of the climatic quantities that influence hurricane activity.”

Camargo added, “As with any probability, there is always an implied role of “noise”, also referred to as chaos, which can degrade the deterministic accuracy of forecasts.”

More information:

If the climate event is in the Northeast, its known as a “hurricane;” in the southwest Indian Ocean, its a “tropical cyclone;” in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, a “typhoon.” more regional names http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/A1.html

More about IRI researcher Suzana Camargo:

http://iri.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/staff?scamargo

IRI Tropical Cyclone Activity Forecasts

http://iri.columbia.edu/forecast/tc_fcst/

Forecasting Tropical Cyclone Activity Using Atmospheric General Circulation Models

http://iri.columbia.edu/pred/project/FcstTropCyclone/

How are hurricanes created? From NASA website. http://kids.earth.nasa.gov/archive/hurricane/creation.html

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world’s leading research centers examining the planet from its core to its atmosphere, across every continent and every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide the basic knowledge of Earth systems needed to inform the future health and habitability of our planet.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.