Jul 30, 2022 - Economy

Hurricane season to allow some companies to showcase their technology

Illustration of a collage featuring a hurricane symbol, and thin rectangles, some with pieces of a dollar bill in them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be unusually active, with worrisome signs in parts of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

The big picture: While hurricane forecasters' main tools are provided by the federal government — such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Air Force hurricane hunters, satellites and computer models — startups are playing a growing role in forecasting.

Zoom in: As it did last year, San Francisco-based Saildrone will be fielding a handful of its remotely operated, heavily instrumented drones, which resemble surfboards with sails, near and even into tropical storms and hurricanes.

  • Its research program conducted with NOAA scored a big payoff last year, when one drone in its fleet sailed into the heart of then-Category 4 Hurricane Sam.
  • The video it relayed back was widely shared, showing tumultuous, white-cap dominated seas.
  • The drones are being used to study an area of the storm that hurricane hunter aircraft cannot safely evaluate — the border between the turbulent ocean water and the air.
  • Knowing more about the exchange of heat between the sea and air could allow for improved hurricane intensity predictions.

Between the lines: In addition to NOAA and NASA's imagery, venture-backed satellite firms, such as ICEYE and Planet, can provide detailed imagery of a storm's impact on land to help disaster assistance providers to analyze the damage, even far from the coasts.

  • Providers of synthetic aperture radar images, such as ICEEYE, can pinpoint flooding on the land surface through cloud cover, which can give them an advantage over purely visible imagery platforms.
  • In addition, private-sector weather and climate intelligence firms, such as tomorrow.io, work to provide clients with information they need to anticipate and mitigate storm-related risks.
  • There are also an increasing number of private-sector satellite networks deployed or planned from operators like Spire and Capella Space, which could be used to enhance the data that flows into NOAA's computer models used for predicting a storm's path and intensity.

The bottom line: What was long a solely federal function, gathering data and predicting tropical storms and hurricanes, is now becoming more diverse, and hopefully, more accurate as well.

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