From Aviation Week and Space Technology 2005 December

STORM SERENDIPITY

Bad as it was, the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season could have been worse. Data from Earth-observing satellites originally launched to monitor long-term climate trends improved forecasters' predictions of the paths and intensities of the violent storms, and more improvements are coming from the same sources.

While weather satellites have long been used to track hurricanes, sophisticated sounding radars, passive radiometers and other instruments on scientific spacecraft have been pressed into service for predictions. With worldwide weather patterns apparently changing, the stakes for life and property are high.

In the U.S. alone, which gets hit by only about 1% of the big tropical cyclones worldwide, three Category 5 hurricanes approached landfall. One of them--Rita--threatened Galveston, Tex., which was blindsided by a powerful Cat. 4 hurricane on Sept. 8, 1900, that left more than 8,000 people dead.

This year, spaceborne systems gave about five days of warning that the storm was approaching, and sometimes indicated changes in its intensity almost as they happened. When Rita finally made landfall up the Gulf Cost in Louisiana, residents knew they had to move because they were in the path of a storm that, while weakening, still registered as a Cat. 4. Meanwhile, the barrier-island city of Galveston already had been evacuated across the single bridge linking it with the mainland.

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