IT weather forecast: Hurricanes with a chance of dead satellites

NOAA is working to fix a broken weather satellite -- the one that watches the Atlantic Ocean -- even as it gears up for what's expected to be an above-normal year for hurricanes.


If you recall, Hurricane Sandy last fall flooded data centers, forced major network hubs to run on generators, and even sparked a fuel bucket brigade to keep servers running.

Well, IT shops take note: It looks like we're in for another bad hurricane season. Federal officials said today that the East Coast could easily see a repeat of last year.

Oh, and by the way, the GOES-13 satellite that helps them track Atlantic storms is offline and officials haven't been able to get it operating properly since yesterday.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1, will be an "above normal and possibly extremely active hurricane season," Kathryn Sullivan, an ex-astronaut and acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said at a briefing Thursday.

In numbers, NOAA says there is a 70% likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (with winds of 39 mph or higher), of which seven to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). Four major storms, including Sandy, made landfall in 2012.

NOAA officials seemed confident with their outlook and said weather events that could suppress the number of hurricanes, such as an EL Nino, are not expected.

On the technology front, it's a good news/bad news story for NOAA.

The agency plans to bring new supercomputer capabilities on-line mid-summer -- before the peak hurricane season, which runs August through October. These systems will give it the capability of processing real-time meteorological data with the possibility of a 10% to 15% improvement in forecasting ability.

But NASA's technical capabilities are also being challenged by the GOES-13 problems. (It had technical issues last year, too.)

NOAA's GOES-15 can for now provide wide-angle satellite imagery of the East Coast. And NOAA can reactivate another weather satellite, GOES-14, if it has to. But that's the only backup NOAA has.

If the problem with GOES-13 continues "we will begin to reposition GOES-14 further east so that it's field of view is fully covering the normal Atlantic," said Sullivan. "We are not blind, forecasting is not materially affected."

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