It takes a team to track a hurricane: Tom Sorrells behind the scenes

Tom Sorrells goes behind the scenes at the National Hurricane Center

Author: Lauren Sweeney, Special Projects Producer, lsweeney@clickorlando.com
Published On: Aug 24 2012 11:18:13 PM EDT
MIAMI, Fla. -

Before the start of hurricane season, the command center at the National Hurricane Center was quiet when Local 6's Tom Sorrells met with scientists for a tour.

The staff at the NHC explained the process of what they go through during a weather event:  like Tropical Storm Isaac.

"Well let me tell you, we are constantly looking at that clock and sweating it out," said Chris Cangialosi, one of the hurricane specialists for the NHC.

Cangiolosi walked Sorrells through the Atlantic forecasting desk and showed him the tools they are using to forecast for Isaac and other tropical weather scenarios.

"Our biggest source of data is satellite imagery and we can look at multiple channels like visible, which gets us close to the ground, infrared imagery which gives us a view of what the could tops look like, and water vapor imagery which goes up in to the atmosphere and gives us some of the environment conditions around the hurricane," said Cangiolosi.

They also get information from the sky from the hurricane hunters where on board meteorologists send back their observations.

"It's a nice sense of accomplishment when you land and you turn on the news and there's all the data that I collected being use to warn the people," said Ilene Bundy, an on board meteorologist from Orlando whose part of the team of people who fly directly into the storm.

Before her information get to the news, there is still a lot of decision making that goes on behind the scenes at the NHC.

"It's a tough job.  To do the whole hurricane package we're sitting here three hours start to finish.  Two hours into this process though we have to get off this desk and get on a coordination call," said Cangiolosi.

In that time crunch they not only have to figure out where the storm is going, but also try to make a determination for an intensity forecast.

Cangialosi said he learned very quickly that meteorologists have a long way to go in predicting the intensity, or category, for storms.

"Even though I went through grad school and did all these studies on how to improve intensity prediction, when you're doing this in real time and sitting in this chair and have to make decisions (it is difficult)," said Cangialosi.

The warning coordinator and senior hurricane specialist for the NHC agreed.

"Track forecasting is fairly simple.  A hurricane is big, it moves around in the atmosphere sort of like a cork in a stream of water.  Whereas intensity forecasting is more on like a thunderstorm scale and it's very complex," said Dan Brown.

Brown is responsible for issuing watches and warnings for storms.

The NHC issues the information on their website but has also been trying to expand their social media efforts as well by sending out updated information via twitter and Facebook.