If you live in the right part of the world, you spend a lot of the year worried about hurricanes or — technically — tropical cyclones. These storms carry an amazing amount of power and can change your life. However, we are relatively spoiled these days compared to the past. It is hard to imagine, but there was a time when a hurricane’s arrival was something of a mystery. Sure, ships would report what they encountered, but finding exact data about a hurricane was a bit hit or miss. We often talk about space technology making life better. Weather forecasting — especially for tropical storms — is one place where money spent in space has made life much better on Earth.
The lack of data about storms can be fatal. The Great Galveston hurricane of 1900 took around 12,000 lives. It might have had a better outcome, but forecasters missed where the storm was heading, announcing that it would go from Cuba to Florida which was just totally wrong. Not that a forecaster couldn’t make a mistake today, but with aircraft and satellite coverage, you’d know very quickly that the prediction was wrong and you’d sound the alarm. In truth, the prediction models have become very good over the years, so the chances of this happening today are virtually nil in any event. But being able to precisely locate and track storms helps reduce the impact of the storm and also feeds data into the models that makes them even more accurate for the future.