Cyclone Center

Scientists at the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration want amateurs to help study hurricanes, typhoons, and other tropical cyclones. Working with the Zooniverse crowdsourcing service, they created the Cyclone Center. Now you can help measure the intensity of cyclones in four decades of satellite images.

It isn’t easy to measure the intensity of a cyclone. Crews on ships unlucky to sail through one might collect some data - and might report the data when its crew has a chance. Noaa research planes fly into hurricanes to collect data, but only when the storm is relatively close to land in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and only for a brief time. Satellites regularly take pictures of the storms and measure temperatures and pressures, but can’t measure a storm’s intensity directly. Scientists at Noaa developed techniques that let professional meteorologists estimate a cyclone’s intensity based on satellite images. Unfortunately, the methods evolved over time and get applied differently from person to person and country to country. That means that, even though Noaa has forty years of satellite images, the intensity measurements are wildly inconsistent.

Noaa’s researchers want a more consistent set of data so they can study the development of these storms over time and understand how climate change may influence storm intensity. The Cyclone Center’s website asks you to analyze images of storms from Noaa’s 300,000 image database. Using techniques similar to the professionals, you estimate the storm’s intensity based on the shape of the spiral clouds and storm eye. The combined analysis from tens of thousands of people around the world will create a dataset professional stormwatchers could never hope to create on their own. They will have intensity estimates for every three hours of the life of every cyclone for the past forty years.

Noaa's original press release