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Satellites and Supercomputers Say 6 to 10 Hurricanes Coming

U.S. scientists predict a stormy season; new satellites and simulations coming too

4 min read
Satellites and Supercomputers Say 6 to 10 Hurricanes Coming

1 June 2011—The clouds spat out an intermittent drizzle of rain—the kind of halfhearted shower that no one could have predicted—as Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), stood outside of NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility and revealed the North American hurricane season forecast for 2011. "NOAA’s forecast team is calling for an above-normal season this year," Lubchenco intoned gravely.

This hurricane season, which begins today and runs through the end of November, is likely to produce 6 to 10 hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, Lubchenco said. Of those storms, 3 to 6 are expected to become major hurricanes, rated Category 3 or above, with sustained winds stronger than 179 kilometers per hour. In other words, Lubchenco told the assembled reporters and TV cameras, coastal communities should get ready, because NOAA forecasts typically come to pass. Last year’s outlook was "amazingly accurate," said Lubchenco. NOAA predicted 8 to 14 hurricanes, with 3 to 7 biggies, and that’s what North America got: 5 major hurricanes out of 12 overall. "It just blew my mind," said Lubchenco. "So we know we’re getting pretty good at making the outlook."

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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