Since 1970 there has been large strides in better track forecasting for hurricanes. In fact, you can see for yourself how far we have come to predicting the location of tropical systems (click the photo tab). Unfortunately, position is only half the battle. Not only are we interested in the "where and when" of a hurricane, but we also want to know "how strong".
The question of intensity, the "how strong", part of the equation has been a thorn in forecasters side as long as we began seeing circulations on satellite. Overall, the progress in intensity forecasting has lagged well behind the track prediction forecasts put out by the National Hurricane Center (click the photo tab). The main reason for this is simply a lack of data.
So much of a strength forecast is depended on the part of the hurricane we can't "see". Of course we have dropsondes to help, but one "image" at one point in time only tells, one part of the story...It would be like a first time cook trying to bake a cake with only a quick 10 second glace at the recipe. Sure you have an idea how everything will ideally come together, but by the time it comes out of the oven it's hard to say how this product will really taste. Hopefully a new National Weather Center aircraft will highlight the most important "ingredients" in our hurricane cake.
To help bring better strength forecasts to the public, the National Hurricane Center is unveiling an unmanned aircraft named Gale (Yep, as in gale force winds). The remote control aircraft will be launched out of the much larger Hurricane Hunter plane and will slice its way through the different layers of a tropical system. The information gathered goes one step further than a one-time "snapshot" often found with dropsonde instruments. Instead of one picture being taken, Gale will string together real-time streaming data to create a more uniform "movie" of the hurricane. Most importantly, Gale will soar to the lowest levels of the circulation, much lower than the Hurricane Hunter is permissioned to fly. Additional information about Gale can be found in the video portion of this post.
The technology is already in place and "Gale" is waiting further testing during the fall and winter months. At this point, National Hurricane Center representatives say the aircraft will most likely be ready for possible deployment during the 2012 hurricane season.