Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison--a place better known for record snowfalls than tropical storms--have developed new satellite tools that are helping forecasters track hurricanes and monitor their intensity. The new technologies are based on a technique that merges the images taken by a string of satellites, each of which has its own view of earth, into a high-resolution composite graphic. Information, say temperature, can then be extracted from the montage and used in models. Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center in Miami are currently using the innovative tools to improve their forecasts.

One of the many new tools available is a computer program that uses pattern-recognition software to measure hurricane intensity. This software scans satellite images and generates a number that quantifies the storm's strength. Previously, hurricane intensity was mostly subjective, based on the judgment of the forecaster on duty. "But this method takes the human guesswork out of the process," says Christopher S. Velden, one of the algorithm's designers. With hurricane season under way, that's something coastal residents from Texas to Virginia will be glad to hear.

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