SWRI nears completion of cutting-edge hurricane technology

CYGNSS program to improve hurricane forecasting

By Justin Horne - Weather Authority Meteorologist/Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Hurricane season may be over, but that does not mean research on how to better predict the destructive storms stops.

For some time, flying a plane into a tropical system was the only way to reliably detect its intensity. That may soon change thanks to scientists at San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute.

"Tens of thousands of people could have been saved with this technology during [Hurricane] Katrina and other large hurricanes,” said Alan Henry, INT manger for the CYGNSS Project at the Southwest Research Institute.

CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System) is a project commissioned by NASA and developed by Southwest Research Institute. The satellites, which are nearing completion, are designed to use GPS technology to get nearly instantaneous surface wind measurements inside a tropical system. It is done by measuring wave heights. In the end, forecasters will able to predict just how fast a storm is intensifying. 

"If you can predict how quickly a hurricane is intensifying, you can get early warning systems out to those who live on the coast,” Henry said.

It will also help to predict storm surge, which is a huge step forward in the world of meteorology. All the work will be done by eight satellites, which are almost complete. It also marks the first time Southwest Research Institute will be responsible for getting its technology into space via a spacecraft.   

The next step for the satellites is environmental testing, by placing the satellites inside a brand new, state-of-the-art chamber that will mimic the space environment. They will need to endure vibration and temperature tests.

"Our launch date is this October 2016,” Henry said. “We launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station."

Data from the satellites is expected to start rolling in by the end of the year.

Copyright 2016 by KSAT - All rights reserved.