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As Hurricane Dorian made its way along the east coast of Florida, one group of Texas Tech students traveled to the Sunshine State to learn more about this storm and gain worthwhile field experience.

The Tech Hurricane Research Team (TTUHRT) is a group made up of atmospheric science and National Wind Institute students and faculty which travels to different locations near the paths of oncoming hurricanes.

Hurricane Dorian reached hurricane status on Aug. 28 near the U.S. Virgin Islands and later reached Category 5 strength as it hit the Bahamas, traveled along the southeast U.S. coast and later arrived near Novia Scotia, Canada from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hurricane and typhoon webpage. 

On Sept. 9, Hurricane Dorian was reported as a post-tropical storm that left heavy rainfalls in its wake. 

Aaron Mehner, second-year atmospheric sciences graduate student from Cape Girardeau, Missouri and appointed student leader of TTUHRT, said the team stayed on the east side of Orlando, Florida and deployed anemometers along the northeast coast of Florida to obtain wind speeds measurements. He said equipment was set as far north as St. Augustine, Florida and as far south as Vero Beach, Florida.

“There’s a lot of teams that go down on these storms to complete a variety of research objectives related to storm surge, damage assessment and things like that,” he said. “Our group is primarily, pretty much exclusively focused on wind speed characteristics of these storms.”

Four trailers each with 12 StickNet probes, which are part of a networked platform developed by Tech students a little over a decade ago, were brought to Florida, Mehner said. The probes, which look like tripods, are screwed into the ground and take measurements using the anemometers on them.

“They have the ability to measure barometric pressure and some of them can do temperature and humidity,” he said. “As I was saying, the primary concern about this effort is more so the wind speeds. So, the big information we’re looking to achieve and obtain from those instruments is the wind speed and wind direction throughout the timeframe that the storm was impacting the area we’re in.”

Understanding the characteristics of hurricanes, whether it be with the Hurricane Dorian research or other projects, is one of the goals Mehner said TTUHRT wants to achieve.

“Our goal in all of this is to measure these windspeeds, so we can help better classify what the characteristics of landfalling or near-landfalling hurricanes would look like for the purposes of, one, better understanding their structure, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with number two when we start to model these things using computer simulations.”

With data collected from Hurricane Dorian, Mehner said Tech researchers will have a better idea of what areas are more vulnerable and how a hurricane’s strength and factors into destruction. 

“Basically, anything you can think of in terms of physical characteristics of both the storm itself as well as some of the coastal geography of some of these regions: infrastructure and things like that,” Mehner said. “The more raw wind speed measurements that we get from these efforts, the better we’re able to understand and really refine our knowledge of the way the low-level wind field of these hurricanes looks, so we can help better equip those models for simulating these storms in the future.”

Abby Hutson, third-year Ph.D. geosciences student from Canton, Ohio, said two radar trucks were also brought to Florida. She said the radars helped in acquiring additional information.

“But with the radars, what we did is set up two radars in a location that had a lot of these StickNets; that had about eight or nine of them,” she said. “What we did with the radars is we’re able to get a 3D wind field. As long as you have both radars, you will get a three-dimensional wind field.”

Using both the StickNets and radars was a way to validate information from both pieces of equipment, Hutson said. It is necessary to know if the collected data regarding the wind fields is correct.

“With the 3D wind field, that really helps us a lot as well because with the StickNets, you get great temporal resolution but only at one point,” she said. “And it’s kind of the opposite for radars. You don’t get the best temporal resolution, but you get a broad span of space.” 

Regardless of the Hurricane Dorian data collected during the TTUHRT’s time in Florida, a chance to go out in the field and collect this data may be a worthwhile experience for those involved.

Ellie Venteicher, first-year atmospheric sciences graduate student from Williams Bay, Wisconsin, said she loves fieldwork and would do this type of work again if the opportunity arises.

“I enjoyed the experience. I was very grateful to have such an experience,” she said. “Even though I am not personally working with the data, I know the data will be put to good use.”

Even though her research focus is on severe thunderstorms, Venteicher said the work done by the TTUHRT at Florida will be beneficial. 

“Having these storms, we can’t do anything to prevent them, so we might as well study them,” Venteicher said. “Being a part of that effort to help advance research going forward is a rewarding experience.” 

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