As Texas and Florida continue recovery work in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Navy scientists are working to improve the way such storms are tracked and their potential to inflict damage.
During both storms, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) sponsored a team of midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which provided 10 Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer (ALAMO) devices to forecasters. In turn, the forecasters deployed the ALAMO devices into Hurricane Irma from Air Force C-130 “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, while the Florida-bound storm was still in the Caribbean.
The devices were able to measure temperature, humidity, altitude, wind speed and direction from under the sea surface, and transmit the data back to research teams.
“Hurricanes like this have a devastating impact on coastal regions,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. David J. Hahn. “Often, there is an intersection of military and civilian needs. If we can improve the lead time and accuracy of storm forecasts, it would give national and local leadership more time and detailed information for preparations, evacuation, or shelter-in-place decisions.”
The ALAMO system consisted of short metal tubes, which carried sensors and scientific payloads. Each ALAMO sank to depths of 1,000 feet, collected data, and then surfaced to transfer the information to satellites. The devices remain deployed, and continue to follow the progress of Hurricane Jose — the next major storm threatening the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast.
“The ALAMO sensors will enable us to get an accurate picture of conditions in the water column — before, during and after the hurricane,” said Capt. Elizabeth Sanabia, the Naval Academy oceanography professor in charge of the research project. “For the Navy, this improved forecasting will increase operational readiness and mitigate risk. For the nation, it will result in better response planning and potentially save lives.”