Mobile research radars capture complete picture of Hurricane Isabel

As Hurricane Isabel came ashore along the North Carolina coast Thursday, two mobile 5-cm Doppler radars placed 40 miles apart gathered data in coordination with each other for the first time. Researchers hope the 13 hours of continuous data gathered can provide new information about the severe winds and turbulence associated with hurricanes.

The SMART-Radars (Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radars) are operated jointly by researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University. The unique radars are based at NSSL.

“This hurricane provided the first opportunity we’ve had to gather data from the entire hurricane using two radars of this type,” said Lou Wicker, NSSL research meteorologist. “The SMART radars are unique in that they were designed to collect data from the entire hurricane, rather than just a piece of it. The data will be used to study the detailed structure of the near-surface winds in the storm as well as how the storm generates a large area of intense rainfall.”

This information, Wicker added, can be used by engineers to improve the structural integrity of buildings, and by meteorologists and hydrologists to improve predictions of the swath of heavy rain and flash floods that often occur within these storms.

Five portable meteorological towers from Texas Tech University were also deployed along the coast and successfully gathered data. The towers were located near the coast of North Carolina in order to measure the storm’s most intense winds. Data from the towers will be combined with the radar winds to create a more complete picture of the strength and variability of the hurricane’s winds.

NSSL Research Meteorologist Lou Wicker provided logistical support for the mission from Norman. Mike Biggerstaff from the University of Oklahoma and John Schroeder from Texas Tech University traveled with the radars. Funding for this mission was provided from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The SMART-Radars are designed to study convective and mesoscale atmospheric processes to help improve forecasts of significant weather events such as flash floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Funding for this mission was provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Images of Hurricane Isabel captured by the SMART-Radars are available online at: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/smartradars.