After Sandy, UAF grant helps forecasters track storms


Photo courtesy of Light Trekker Studios The Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station occupies part of the Gilmore Creek valley and a nearby ridge off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks.
Photo courtesy of Light Trekker Studios
The Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station occupies part of the Gilmore Creek valley and a nearby ridge off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks.

Diana Campbell
907-474-5229
12/8/2014

The effects of Hurricane Sandy, one of the largest and costliest cyclones to hit the United States, are resonating northward.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received a $1.7 million grant to improve satellite data capture and rapid product generation for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The grant will help NOAA’s National Weather Service give earlier warnings of massive weather events.

“Data from polar orbiting satellites was vital in the days before Hurricane Sandy made landfall,” said Tom Heinrichs, director of the Geographic Information Network of Alaska, part of the UAF Geophysical Institute. “The Sandy hurricane track forecast was excellent, in part due to data from polar orbiting satellites that went into weather models.”

Sandy, a complex storm system, was close to 1,000 miles in diameter and affected 24 states.

The forecast gave people in New Jersey and New York several days’ notice of the danger, resulting in many lives saved, according to a report by NOAA. However, even with good forecasting, the storm killed 285 people and caused billions in damage.

After Sandy, Congress passed the Sandy Supplemental Appropriations Act in 2013, which in part provided NOAA an opportunity to strengthen the National Weather Service. The act covers Sandy recovery efforts and calls for improving response and recovery capability for future weather disasters.

Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy. Courtesy of NOAA.
Courtesy of NOAA
Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast in this satellite image.

The NOAA award to UAF will beef up existing satellite systems at the Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station, formerly known as Gilmore Creek Tracking Station, located off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. The new satellite reception antenna and processing equipment will further enhance the service’s ability to forecast the weather and provide warnings, Heinrichs said.

In partnership with NOAA satellite operators and NWS forecasters, GINA is designing a new satellite data collection and processing system for the site and will oversee the installation of a new satellite dish. The new system will help cover a potential gap between a current satellite’s end of design life in 2016 and its replacement launch in 2017.

“We’ve been working closely with the NOAA satellite operators and the Alaska NWS for nearly two decades. This project is an extension of that long and successful collaboration,” Heinrichs said.

GINA is a partner with NOAA, which owns the tracking station. All of the work will be completed near the end of 2015.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Tom Heinrichs, GINA director, at tom.heinrichs@alaska.edu or 907-474-6897. Sue Mitchell, GI public information officer, at sue.mitchell@alaska.edu or 907-474-5823.

ON THE WEB: http://gina.alaska.edu/

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