Underwater gliders help make hurricane predictions in Chatham County

Local News

Skidaway Island, Ga. – (WSAV) Scientists based in Chatham county at the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are part of a team of researchers collecting information to help with Hurricane predictions. They operate underwater robots that collect a new data set for storm forecasters. The Robots look more like torpedoes and they are called underwater gliders.

For the first time, they are giving meteorologists water temperatures beneath the waves during the storm. This information is vital to making more accurate forecasts of a hurricane’s power by revealing if it will either gain strength or weaken. This will be the second hurricane season where this technology comes into play. Last year Chatham county-based gliders played an important role in the observation and prediction of Hurricane Florence. Dr. Catherine Edwards, Assistant Professor, head’s the team that deploys the robots off the Georgia Coast, “The glider north of the storm near North Carolina, um, captured a very strong difference in temperature between surface and bottom, whereas the model didn’t see any major difference between surface to bottom at all,” Edwards said, adding the gliders provide unprecedented, real-time sub-surface temperature data crucial to strengthening or weakening storms, “Having the full, three dimensional heat in the ocean, having an estimate of that from sub-surface measurements, provides a more realistic estimate of the heat that’s available to tropical systems. They have satellite phones built into the tail, um, those give us clear communications even through hurricanes while the glider is swimming underneath it,” Edwards said.

There are two gliders based on Skidaway Island, part of a network along the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, all are prepped and ready for the 2019 hurricane season, “We hope to have up to twenty-four gliders in the ocean fo hurricane season this year,” Edwards said. Each glider costs about $250,000 dollarS. Edwards says it’s money well-spent when you consider the gliders impact with improved hurricane predictions, “Understanding that intensity difference between a Category 3 or a Category 4, is important for emergency managers and that has effects on our lives. That could be the decision between whether or not the area you live in could be evacuated or not,” Edwards said.

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