NEXRAD in Space (NIS): A Satellite Doppler Radar Mission Dedicated to Greatly Improved Observing and Forecasting of Hurricanes During HiFi Era
San Francisco, 12/11/2006

Top Panel: Schematic of fully deployed GEO-NIS satellite viewing Earth with two spiraling Doppler radar feeds. [Insets show 30-meter radar antenna in three different stages of deployment.] Bottom Panel: Artistic rendition of GEO-NIS radar viewing Hurricane Katrina (28 August 2005). [Diagrams courtesy of Mr. John Hah at NASA/JPL.]

Disastrous 2004 and 2005 Hurricane Seasons
The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons led to unprecedented death, damage, and suffering within the Gulf Coast and Florida region, particularly due to Hurricane Katrina which flooded over 80% of the City of New Orleans, destroyed entire sections of the city, and destroyed or incapacitated major infrastructure elements of the U.S. energy system. In addition to some 2,000 fatalities in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and the wholesale destruction of over 350,000 homes and businesses, Hurricane Katrina (along with Hurricane Rita) destroyed many of the Gulf’s stationary and mobile oil platforms, i.e., some 150 facilities responsible for approximately 15% of the America’s petroleum supply.

Importance of Improving Hurricane Forecasting -- Especially Intensity Forecasting
The frequency and ferocity of major storms making landfall during the 2004-05 hurricane seasons, and the likelihood that such seasons are now an expected element of the global climate, have exposed a number of vulnerabilities within federal, state, and local organizations charged with the responsibility for civil protection, hazard forecasting, and emergency management pertaining to hurricanes. As a result, government reassessments are underway to identify what types of civic and forecasting strategies are needed to cope with tropical storms and hurricanes that impact not only Florida and the Gulf Coast region, but also the entire eastern seaboard. A major element of these reassessments has involved seeking means to improve hurricane intensity forecasting. It is well recognized that in order to improve responsiveness to hurricane related hazards, it is essential to reduce the uncertainties in the hurricane model forecasts, and to improve in the ability of forecasting the expected impact of hurricane landfall using sophisticated models that base their outlooks directly on the hurricane forecasts themselves. As a result, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), the National Science Board (NSB) of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the American Geophysical union (AGU) have gone on record with planning strategies needed to revise how hurricane predictions are carried out and which factors involving hurricane forecasting deserve the most attention.

Strategy for Greatly Improving Hurricane Forecasting During HiFi Era
We have developed a remote sensing and computer modeling strategy for greatly improving hurricane observing and forecasting in the course of the next decade during the time frame of the Hurricane Intensity Forecast Improvements (HiFi) project. The HiFi project represents the foremost response within the U.S. scientific community focused on greatly improving the accuracy and timeliness of forecasts within the U.S. operational forecasting agencies []. Because of its scope, the HiFi project is examining all aspects of the tropical cyclone forecasting problem from the quality and quantity of available monitoring data, to the reliability and speed of data communications, skill of forecast models, effectiveness of information management, and the definition and readiness of an equipment infusion plan targeting anticipated future improvements in data acquisition and computer technologies.

The observing capability that is needed is a Ka-band (35 GHz) Doppler radar system on board a geostationary (GEO) satellite platform (i.e., the NIS satellite) which would produce hourly observations of a hurricane’s position, intensity, vertical structure, and internal dynamics. The forecasting improvements would arise directly from this revolutionary observing capability by application of continuous data assimilation into very high resolution cloud resolving forecast models designed to exploit the three new major measuring capabilities that the GEO Doppler radar system would provide: (1) vertical velocity, (2) precipitation intensity, and (3) rate of atmospheric heating through release of latent heat of condensation.

Changing Hurricane Observing and Forecasting Paradigm
This space technology, along with the accompanying numerical prediction modeling approach, represents a complete paradigm shift insofar as observing and forecasting hurricanes in a 4-dimensionl framework (see diagrams). The outcome of proceeding with this strategy would be a far greater understanding of hurricane behavior and much greater accuracies in hurricane forecasts -- especially the formidable properties of intensity and flood potential. Ultimately, this strategy would lead to a significantly improved disaster warning and civil
defense system for the U.S. population vulnerable to the destructiveness of intense, land-falling hurricanes such as experienced by the American southeast during the 2004-05 seasons.