Compatible, easily accessible data from multiple sources are increasing understanding of how oceans drive storms to enable earlier, more accurate weather predictions. This allows people to get to safety before disaster strikes.
Government, industry, and recreational ocean-goers all require reliable real-time information on harbor and ocean conditions – such as currents, waves, and weather. IOOS members rely on current meters, shore based radar systems, wave buoys, sea level gauges, and underwater vehicles to collect these data. The information supports maritime safety and security, prevents business losses, and aids port operations. Scientists use this information to improve search and rescue operations, spill response, and severe weather and event predictions, as well as optimize shipping routes and plan civil defense response.
One example is a regional IOOS effort with the University of Hawaii. The partners operate and maintain four wave buoys around the Hawaiian Islands. IOOS data delivered from one wave buoy located outside the main harbor of Lanai, Hawaii – Kaumalapau Harbor – vastly improved oil import operations to the island. Prior to the buoy’s placement, barge companies returned 2-3 barges a year to Honolulu still full of fuel because ocean conditions in the harbor were too rough to safely discharge. This cost companies about $22,000 each time. Since the buoy deployment in 2007, barge companies know ahead of time when they can safely make the drop off and have not had to return a single barge. In addition to cost savings, the information improves crew safety and reduces threats of barge damage or oil spills.
IOOS data also helps prevent business losses in the Mid-Atlantic, where ocean information is used to support creation and validation for regional weather forecasts critical for ocean related businesses such as tourism, shipping and maritime trade, recreational fisheries and the insurance industry. Local, coastal businesses also rely on these forecasts. Scientists are developing a prediction system to provide emergency managers, planners, businesses, and households in the Chesapeake Bay area with more accurate, timely and reliable forecasts of storm driven flooding associated with tropical cyclones and nor’easters. Mid-Atlantic IOOS researchers developed a prediction tool proven to be accurate to the city block at time intervals of one hour or less. 15 emergency managers interviewed in 2010 about this decision-support tool said the tool would fill a need and that they all would use it.
In the Caribbean, severe weather is also a concern. Northern coasts of the region area particularly vulnerable to the impact of large ocean swells generated by extra-tropical storms in the North Atlantic and all regional coasts are vulnerable to hurricane generated swells. Regional port procedures require port closure when wave forecasts exceed a certain threshold. But deciding when to re-open is also important. The new IOOS buoys provide the Port Captain with an objective tool for deciding when to re-open ports, thus saving maritime operators from substantial losses due to forced ship idleness.
Severe weather happens around the nation and it doesn’t respect geographic boundaries. One thing all the regions have in common is the need for timely, accurate data to keep them safe, and to aid economic and environmental decisions.