News & Media

Jonathan Merage Foundation Partners with the University of Hawaii to Investigate How Long-Range Lightning and Storm Balloon Data Can Improve Storm Forecasting

Jun 20 2016
University of Hawaii, Jonathan Merage, Jonathan Merage Foundation

The Jonathan Merage Foundation has embarked on a long-term partnership with the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology to explore how long-range lightning data can potentially improve storm forecasting.

“Through the ingest of lightning and storm balloon data, this project aims to increase our ability to map water vapor and heat associated with condensation of water in hurricane storm clouds in the core of the storm,” said Professor Steven Businger, chair of the Atmospheric Science Department at the University of Hawaii and project lead. “In the process, details of the initial storm circulation in the hurricane model will be improved,” added Businger.

In future years, the way the lightning data are ingested into the hurricane model will be refined, to provide a more sophisticated and balanced approach that improves the way in which individual storm clouds evolve in the model.  A number of poorly forecast recent hurricanes will be targeted as case studies to spur improvement in hurricane simulation and prediction.

Businger has been a pioneer in storm balloon development and suggests that floating storm balloons at low levels into a hurricane will provide crucial data on the energy exchange between hurricanes and the ocean surface beneath. The goal is to construct affordable storm balloons that possess the needed buoyancy control to allow them to remain near the ocean surface as they move towards the eye of the hurricane. They also contain GPS for position information and Iridium satellite communication to send data back on the energy exchange that governs hurricane intensity.

 “Hurricanes are the most destructive storms on Earth and our ability to accurately forecast changes in their strength before landfall has not improved significantly in 20 years. Through this project, we hope to discover critical data that will significantly improve the knowledgebase in this area,” said Businger.

The project will kick off at the end of June, when University of Hawaii staff will visit with the Jonathan Merage Foundation in Colorado in hopes of catching a storm for the first balloon launch exploration.