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Tracking Hurricane Rita from the Air

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Tracking Hurricane Rita from the Air

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Tracking Hurricane Rita from the Air

Tracking Hurricane Rita from the Air

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Noah Adams speaks with Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division. He's just returned from a flight tracking Hurricane Rita aboard NOAA's G-4 surveillance aircraft, nicknamed "Gonzo," above the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

Coming up, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of sending the nomination of John Roberts to be chief justice to the full Senate.

But first, we turn to Hurricane Rita. More than 1.3 million people are now under orders to evacuate parts of Texas and Louisiana as the hurricane approaches. The storm is now rated a Category 4. It is still considered dangerous. It is expected to come ashore late tomorrow or on Saturday. Meteorologist Stan Goldenberg with NOAA's Hurricane Research Division has just returned from a flight aboard their storm surveillance airplane; it's nicknamed Gonzo. He and his team were above the Gulf of Mexico tracking the storm.

Welcome, sir.

Mr. STAN GOLDENBERG (Hurricane Research Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Good day, Noah.

ADAMS: What does it look like? How high were you? What is that aircraft you're in?

Mr. GOLDENBERG: Well, this particular aircraft, which is a Gulfstream 4, flies up at about 45,000 feet, and it's important to note the purpose of our missions are not to go into the center of the storm, like the two other NOAA aircraft, the NOAA P-3 aircraft, do, but we mainly survey around the storm to measure the steering currents--in other words, the air that's going to push the storm along.

ADAMS: When we look at this on television, it seems to fill up the entire Gulf of Mexico. Do you get that feeling from up there? And can you, indeed, see it moving counterclockwise?

Mr. GOLDENBERG: We certainly measure the winds 'cause basically from the plane, by the way, we drop canisters called dropwindsondes that measure temperature, pressure, wind and humidity from the plane down to the surface. So we see all these things in the measurements. When you go high enough, you start to see rotating the opposite direction because the outflow at very, very high layers is actually the other way. It's clockwise.

ADAMS: Any thought now that the hurricane could be weakening, and if so, for what reasons?

Mr. GOLDENBERG: Well, there's a few things that the National Hurricane Center has been looking at. Understand when we're in the plane, we see, like, one little piece of the puzzle, and we get that information back to the Hurricane Center. We're actually transmitting the data we're collecting in real time via satellite to the Hurricane Center and to the National Weather Service for their models. But the Hurricane Center is looking at our piece of data and a lot of other data, and according to what they're stating right now, first of all, the storm appears to be starting what we call an eye wall cycle, meaning you have this little doughnut in the middle which is where the strongest winds are, the eye wall, and at some point with strong storms, you start to form an outer ring around it. Once you form that, it starts to choke out the inner ring and the strength of the storm can go down one or even two categories for a period of time. Then the outer ring starts to contract and it can strengthen again. That's one thing that appears to be starting.

Also, when we were flying in the plane, we saw a substantial amount of dry air, to be expected, coming off the continent to the northwest of the storm. And if you were following it on the infrared satellite, you could see the cloud tops on the west, if you had the colored ones, go from red to more like orange and less intense colors. So I believe it's sucking in that dry air and that's also starting to weaken the storm. We just don't exactly how much.

ADAMS: Brings up a final question here. When we see the storm--you mentioned the colors--it is red, it is yellow, it is orange.

Mr. GOLDENBERG: Right, of course. That's just the color-enhanced infrared.

ADAMS: Right. But we still tend to characterize these storms as monsters. We tend to give them animalistic qualities. Can a storm have any intent or is that just science fiction and television?

Mr. GOLDENBERG: No, they're really just nature doing its thing as far as balancing out the heat content in the tropics with what you have up north. Neil Frank, who used to be a director of the Hurricane Center, would call it nature's eggbeaters kind of mixing things up. The real problem is people not respecting the weather and realizing they live in a hurricane-prone area. These things can do quite a bit of damage, and people need to respect it, especially people right on the coast where you have surge. I hope anybody listening to this, if you have been declared that you're in a mandatory evacuation area, get out.

ADAMS: Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, thank you for your time.

Mr. GOLDENBERG: Thank you. You have a good day.

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