A Florida Polytechnic University professor had a direct impact last week on forecasting Hurricane Harvey’s devastating path through south Texas.
Dr. Suleiman Alsweiss was a scientist at the Center for Satellite Applications and Research, part of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), prior to joining Florida Poly as a professor of Electrical Engineering. When the tropical depression swirling in the Gulf of Mexico coalesced into the deadly Hurricane Harvey, NOAA colleagues asked Dr. Alsweiss if he would be willing to join them and travel once again into the eye of the storm.
He accepted without hesitation.
“There is no way to stop these storms,” Dr. Alsweiss explains. “But we can be prepared and a big part of that is knowing exactly what to expect.”
After wrapping up a class at 6:15 pm on Aug. 24, Dr. Alsweiss headed directly to the newly constructed NOAA Aircraft Operations Center (NOAA AOC) Facility in Lakeland. After a mission briefing, Dr. Alsweiss and about 15 other scientists and crew members boarded the NOAA-P3 “Hurricane Hunter” plane specially outfitted to conduct science and research missions into fierce storms. A two-hour ferry flight brought them to Harvey.
“That’s where the excitement begins,” Dr. Alsweiss says. “It’s like riding a roller coaster; everyone is strapped in.”
The aircraft made several penetrations into the storm, passing through the eye and the eye wall, where the winds are most extreme. While satellite imagery reveals important information about these storms, measurements taken in the heart of a hurricane — called “ground truth”— provide a sustained, real-time picture of the hurricane’s strength with excellent accuracy.With this data, the National Hurricane Center can improve the accuracy of their forecast, and provide better information to people in the path of the storm.
“The main goal is to save lives,” Dr. Alsweiss says.
After four hours of flying into the teeth of Harvey, the plane circled back for Lakeland. It was 5 a.m. by the time Dr. Alsweiss arrived in Central Florida and ended a wild, adrenaline-filled 24 hours. It’s not until you’re home that you realize the scope of what just happened, Dr. Alsweiss says.
“Things can be risky, but everyone is willing to go the extra mile when it comes to learning more about these extreme weather events. If just one life was saved by the work we do then it’s worth it,” Dr. Alsweiss says.