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After a long and hectic 2020 hurricane season, it is evident that technology and our advanced methods used for tracking and watching storms

4/9/2021 (Permalink)

If we look back to the late 1800’s before such instrumentation and methods were established, thousands of people would be left injured or killed because storms would arrive with little to no warning. Fortunately, we no longer live in the 1800’s but in order to truly appreciate where we are today, we must understand where we started.

The History of Hurricane Forecasting

In 1873, the first hurricane warning service was established in Cuba by a man named Father Benito Vines. He created a network of observation sites, allowing him to develop the first method to forecast tropical cyclone movement based off cloud patterns that would progress prior to hurricanes. While there were still flaws in his methods, he established a foundation that would only grow stronger.

A few years later after the hurricane of 1875, the U.S. created a warning flag system which entailed a pair of red flags with black rectangles in the center to be hoisted up in areas where hurricane warnings were in effect.   

Fast forward to 1905, we begin implementing the use of radio from ships. This initiative provided significantly more information about the storm to those tracking the hurricanes. In 1909 the first report from a hurricane was received over radio and by 1935 we had received around 21,000 reports a year and it did not stop there. As the amount of data received continued to grow, so did our methods of acquiring it. In 1935 we sent out our first manned aircraft to gather data on hurricanes. This initial aircraft reconnaissance never penetrated the storm, however in 1943 Colonel Joseph Duckworth flew a single-engine plane into a category 1 storm after a bet. Since then, military weather reconnaissance plane missions became routine in order to gather meteorological data. These missions, along with the technological advances brought about post WWII with radar, provided us with a modern forecasting system and allowed us to forecast and issue hurricane advisories one day into the future.

The nest big technological advancement was in 1960 when NASA launched its TRIOS satellite, transmitting both visible light and infrared photographs. These images revealed the presence of storms throughout the ocean, greatly improving forecasters’ situational awareness. After satellite surveillance grew to be a regular method of storm discovery, hurricane hunter aircrafts only flew into storm areas which were spotted first by satellite imagery.

Over the next few decades, technological methods and innovations were in constant battle, propelling our methods to where we are today. In 2020, the government tracks the intensity, size and structure of tropical cyclones, storm surges, rainfall and tornadoes associated with tropical cyclones, using Satellites, reconnaissance aircrafts, ships, buoys, radar, and other land-based platforms. Through these advancements we can detect and track from the moment the storm forms to the moment it makes landfall, supplying ample information far in advance to allow for proper preparations to be made, ensuring our safety and well-being.

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