As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the eastern coast of the United States, many people are hunkering down in their homes with supplies they bought over the last few days, including bottled water, canned foods and batteries for flashlights and lanterns. In some areas residents have been evacuated as a safety precaution.
For countless Americans, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still fresh in their memories. So when individuals find that their homes are in the path of the next big storm, tensions run high. Powerful winds can uproot trees and send them crashing into buildings while levees, rivers and other bodies of water overflow and cause serious flooding.
But, hopefully the damage done by hurricanes can soon be mitigated, thanks to innovative technological breakthroughs at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Terry Hock, an electrical engineer at NCAR, and a team of other scientists have been using something called a "dropsonde" for years now.
These devices look similar to a tube that one might store a poster or blueprints in. However, you won't find paper inside when you open them up. Instead, there is a series of state-of-the-art sensors that measure everything from temperature and humidity to wind speed and direction.
Dropsondes are launched from aircraft and then gather atmospheric data via these sensors as they descend. Currently, researchers are able to use this technology to classify hurricanes and learn more about their inner workings. They also hope to be able to gather information that will help them identify conditions that lead to the formation of hurricanes, allowing forecasters to make earlier and more accurate predictions.
Dropsondes have a huge impact on understanding hurricanes and predicting hurricanes," Hock said in a Science Nation video for NASA Tech Briefs TV. "As the sonde is falling we're seeing every single little measurement show up immediately on the computer screen."
As researchers continue to improve dropsonde technology, the benefits could be enormous. The goal is to provide crucial time for adequate preparations to be made and, if necessary, evacuations to be conducted.