Failing Satellite May Leave Hawaii Forecasters in the Dark

Wes Browning
Wes Browning
Bill Proenza
Bill Proenza

June 14, 2007 03:53 PM

By Paul Drewes

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Local weather forecasters fear a failing satellite could leave them without an important tool this hurricane season. Unless a storm is near a buoy, its hard to get information on tropical systems in our oceans, without satellite's tracking the storms.

That concerns forecasters who now rely on an aging satellite.

During hurricane season, forecasters closely watch the winds of any tropical system.

"With tropical systems we want to know, the wind field near the tropical system, we also want to know the wind field around the system itself. Because that helps determine where the system will go, its track." says National Weather Service Forecaster, Wes Browning.

Forecasters also watch big waves develop across the Pacific, by looking at the winds.

"If we have a really good idea of what the wind speeds and directions are, we can accurately forecast surf three, five even seven days out." adds Browning.

But there is a problem, the satellite that sends down this critical data may not last much longer.

"It's on borrowed time and as it stands right now we don't have another transmitter, it's already on a backup transmitter." says Bill Proenza, with the National Hurricane Center.

"It basically could go down at any moment." adds Browning.

The satellite known as "Quikscat" was launched in 1999, and designed to only last several years. Another experimental satellite designed to take its place, doesn't provided the detailed wind data, or the coverage area of the aging "Quikscat". So if it were to fail, forecasters would be left without an important tool this hurricane season. As well as the rest of the year, where winds play an important part of our island weather.

"Its critical for us in forecasting not only for hurricanes and big surf but also for mariners who depend on our wind forecasts. "

If "Quikscat" should fail soon, estimates are a replacement satellite would take 400 million dollars and four years to build. Then it would have to be launched and tested.

Right now, there is no replacement satellite scheduled until 2016.