Hurricane hunters Print
Sunday, 25 March 2018 15:36

BEHIND  THE  LINES

BY BOB JALDON

San Jose, CA. — How I wish we had them in the Philippines so that we can prepare for devastating rain storms.

.S. scientists tracked a formidable sight: the spawning of a wet and wild storm the size of 30 Mississippi rivers headed toward California, the weekend that I landed in San Francisco.

There is now an expanding network of sophisticated gauges, sensors and computers that can predict the strength of “atmospheric rivers” with the best precision ever, estimating not just when rain will arrive, but where and how much — saving lives and property in the process.

A meteorologist of the Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC (University of California) San Diego said that in the past, “it was not as easy to distinguish storms that had the potential to deliver really heavy precipitation and those that would not.” The current weather in California is an example of strong and warm atmospheric river, nicknamed “Pineapple Express” because it is formed by winds over warm bands of tropical water vapor, holding great moisture. Much like a river on the ground carries water in streams to the earth, the atmospheric river carries water vapor streams through the sky.

California, unlike the Philippines, and more particularly Zamboanga, receives about half of its annual water supply from atmospheric rivers. The new tools are contributing to a much better understanding of how atmospheric rivers behave. They’ve learned how to mathematically represent the atmosphere using complex equations and calculate those equations with far more powerful computers. The result is: better predictions of the arrival and intensity of those storms that will greatly benefit water managers, reservoir operators and flood prevention agencies in their work to sustainably manage water supplies and protect people and property from flood damage. Chito Vasquez and Elmer Apolinario, take note.

Scientists say that it also helps anticipate disasters, not merely respond to them — as what we do all the time. Flooding, as the risk reduction managers know, is the leading cause of severe weather-related deaths and property destruction.

This method of predicting storm surges is quite expensive. The so-called “picket fence”  of atmospheric river observatory stations have been erected along the coast, from Santa Barbara to Canada. The goal of each station is to identify the traits of the storm which is essential for predicting risk of flood.

Another new network called the Advanced Quantitative Precipitation Information System that detects discreet patches of incoming rain has been installed to the rooftop of a treatment plant owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

In addition, there’s a new network of snow-level radar units in California. Snow level, the altitude in the atmosphere where snow changes into rain, is a critical factor influencing runoff in mountainous watersheds. Of course, this doesn’t apply to us.

In addition, scientists are flying out to the Pacific Ocean to meet the atmospheric rivers before they land. They are called the “Hurricane Hunters.” They release “dropsondes” into the atmospheric rivers over the Pacific Ocean from about 30,000 feet. These dropsondes collect data including air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind, speed and direction, and Global Positioning System information. This data is then used by the California Department of Water Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to gain more knowledge about atmospheric rivers and increase the accuracy of forecast models.

The goal, scientists say, is to learn how atmospheric rivers start, how they evolve, and what and when they’ll deliver. Thus, said one scientist, “if we can track what’s happening, we’ll be better prepared to manage situations.”

Instead of spending a ton of money for the travels, mostly junkets, of city officials, we might as well invest on instruments that can predict how severe an oncoming storm would be so we may better prevent the loss of lives and property.

We have until the next deadly storm surge to do that.