One of the nation's leading hurricane research teams is right here at Texas Tech University. A group of four meteorologists from the team left Friday morning to study Gustav.
The team is headed to wherever Gustav might hit, and right now they are a little more than half way to their destination. They left with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do research that only a few groups in the country can do.
While most people try to get out of the way of the storm, the Texas Tech Hurricane Research Team is headed straight for it. They were there for Katrina, and now they'll be there for Gustav. "It's kind of an awing experience to look out there and say wow that storm surge, that's the ocean. It's right there. It gives you a healthy respect for a hurricane very quickly," said team member, John Schroeder.
Ian Jiammanco has worked with the team since 2003. This is his 11th storm chasing trip, but this one is a little different than most. He's going home, to the place he grew up, to track this storm. "Most other storms you go to some other location, and it's nothing personal, but it is a little bit, Katrina was a little different because its places that I knew, that I've been, I've seen. That's where my family is from, and it was a little different. A little more personal, and it makes you want to do your job just a little bit better," said Jimmanco.
The program, which costs about $100,000 a year to fund, started in 1998. "I wanted to work on understanding the winds of a hurricane better, and I went out searching for data and there wasn't any. There are very few data sources out there. So instead of waiting around and hoping the data would appear Texas Tech kind of committed to developing a program to go out and get that data," said Schroeder.
Since then the team has tracked 25 hurricanes and tropical storms. It's one of only three groups in the country that do this kind of research.
First, they drive trailers full of equipment to the location of the storm. When they arrive, they set up and deploy 24 platforms that cost more than $8,000 a piece. These platforms measure wind speed in high resolution, ten times per second. Once the platforms are deployed, they get a safe distance away, and just have to wait.
"After the storm passes we go back in and try to collect the platforms. Some storms you can do that relatively efficiently. Other storms there's trees down and places flooded. Things like that take a while, sometimes days, it's even taken weeks before to get the platforms," said Schroeder.
The data collected helps meteorologists understand hurricanes better, but it also has a more practical application. That wind data can be given to engineers to help design structures to better withstand those extreme wind values. It takes five to 10 years for their research to be used in building codes, but the team knows what they do eventually makes people safer in extreme weather.
When evacuations start, and people flood the streets to get away from the destruction, the team is happy to be there. This is their passion, and when Gustav arrives they'll be ready to weather the storm.
The team left Friday without a place to stay because all the hotels around Interstate 10 are booked. They never know how long they'll be gone when they go track a storm, but they're hoping it won't be longer than a week.
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