Has Hurricane Sandy sent your running for bottled water and bread? Find yourself mesmerized by the Weather Channel during tropical storm season? You can put your weather fetish to work with Cyclone Center, a new citizen scientist project.

Cyclone Center allows users to view and help classify three decades of tracked tropical storm data. This data needs analysis as most of it passed over detection — the storms did not hit major population areas. Are you willing to login and decipher this data to establish weather patterns in areas of the world that lack developed weather trends?


Gauging the intensity of tropical storms
Cyclone Center uses two criteria — temperature and pattern — to determine the intensity of the over 300,000 images of storms within in its tropical storm database. How did they acquire so many images? By culling three decades of information from infrared sensors placed on satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

By presenting infrared temperature data in color, it becomes much easier to analyze the intensity of a storm. Previously, scientists used a chart of black, white, and gray scale shades to determine strength in the days before color monitors and printers.


Colder sections of the storm, denoted in blue, are typically at the center and at high altitudes. Cyclone Center uses a gradient moving from pink to blue to denote a change in temperature within a storm. Green and red are left off the scale so that color-blind individuals can join in on the project.

This gradient represents an unusual temperature span — from 9°C to -85°C — but these are the temperatures recorded at such extreme altitudes. Blue areas near the center of tropical storms routinely hit -75 to -80°C, with these cold areas most responsible for creating extremely high wind-speeds and torrential rain.

The goal of Cyclone Center is to use the power of citizen scientists to establish weather patterns in areas of the world that lack developed weather trends. The conclusions could also be used to extrapolate the movements and transitions in storm strength of tropical storms that encounter populated areas.


Why not use computers to sift through the data?
While the color/temperature based part of storm would be relatively easy for a computer to quantify, human data-sifters are much better at comparing images and making subjective decisions.

This advantage in pattern discernment plays a large role in the second part of these 300,000 images used to determine storm intensity. The patterns present at the center of the storm and the overall shape of the storm itself yield a phenomenal amount of information about a storm, as a storm becomes more organized as it intensifies. Both temperature and pattern govern storm intensity — check out the diagram from Cyclone Center above to see how the right mix of temperature and shape


Get involved
When a citizen scientist begins a round at Cyclone Center, they are given two images of the same storm. These two pictures are infrared data measurements taken twenty-four hours apart, and the user selects, based on the color, which image appears more intense. If either image shows an change in a large color region, resulting in a change in storm intensity, the data is then used to tell if the storm gained or lost strength over the twenty-four hour interval.

As the citizen scientist progresses through a decision tree guided by the Dvorak Technique, a set of well established meteorology analysis rules, the user is prompted to look for patterns and maybe, just maybe, find an occasional eye of the tropical storm. Spotting a eye is actually quite rare — when a user spots such a phenomenon, the questions immediately center on the formation.

You can register and help scientists determine tropical storm intensity at CycloneCenter.org. The Cyclone Center project is funded by NOAA'S National Climatic Data Center, the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Zooniverse.


Top image by NASAGoddard Photo and Video/CC. Additional images courtesy of Cyclone Center.