How Are Hurricanes Tracked?

hurricanes-tracked Credit: kakela/CC-BY-2.0

Satellites, Doppler radar, aircraft and observations are used in the process of tracking hurricanes. Tracking hurricanes is a constantly evolving process that sometimes requires the use of only some of these tools and at other times requires the use of all these tools.

Satellite images are extremely important to forecasters. Satellites can put several hours of pictures into motion. This helps meteorologist gather information about the track and the development of hurricanes.

Doppler radar helps detect rain associated with hurricanes. It covers rainfall surrounding a distance of 200 to 250 miles from the Doppler location. It also helps provide estimated rainfall amounts and helps spot rain bands, the eye and the eye wall within a hurricane.

Aircraft are used to gather information about wind speed, rainfall and the eye of a hurricane. Dropsondes are instruments dropped into a hurricane by aircraft. These devices record wind speed, wind direction, air pressure and air temperature.

Observational data, such as that collected by data buoys placed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards, is relayed as radio or satellite signals, providing information about a hurricane. This includes the air and water temperature, wind speeds, air pressure and the conditions of the waves occurring with a hurricane.

Information obtained from all these tools about past hurricanes helps meteorologists forecast a new hurricane's potential path and any changes in intensity long before the hurricane ever makes landfall.