25 September 2021

"Tropical Cyclone Radar Loops" Turns 20

Twenty years ago today, the "Tropical Cyclone Radar Loops" webpage was born.  It is strange for me to think about, but on September 25th, 2001, some current college students were not born yet!

Radar image of intensifying Hurricane Dolly on the morning of July 23, 2008.  The dramatic eyewall configuration and evolution was documented in a 2012 paper: "Observed Inner-Core Structural Variability in Hurricane Dolly (2008)".

I was just a few months out of graduate school, and had been hunting for archives of radar coverage of hurricanes making landfall for many months as I was really interested in polygonal eyewalls and mesovortices (poster from December 2000, paper from December 2002). I was at Colorado State University at the time, and asked around the large pool of tropical cyclone experts there, emailed colleagues, etc. -- no luck. Radar images were available in real-time on some websites of course, but even then they only displayed the most recent couple of hours at best.

36-hour radar loop of Category 5 Hurricane Maria crossing the Leeward Islands on September 18-19, 2017.

I begrudgingly concluded that no such resource existed, so I created one.  Of course, I had to write all of the scripts that would handle this task, so that was Step 1. Step 2 was getting people to know that it finally existed!  The webpage would be a home for current radar loops/animations of active storms that were many hours or even days long, but then serve as an archive of those loops. Little did I know that I would still be adding to it twenty years later.

The first entry to the site was Typhoon Lekima as it was nearing Taiwan (see below). As of September 25, 2021, the archive contains 492 radar loops spanning 198 tropical cyclones using radars in 30 different countries.  It's certainly not a complete record of tropical cyclone landfalls, and it was never intended to be; but I try to capture them when possible.  I have been able to backfill some cases in rare instances, but for the most part, every loop in that archive was created and available online in real-time.

The first entry to the Tropical Cyclone Radar Loops webpage was this one of Typhoon Lekima making landfall in southern Taiwan in September 2001.

All of the loops are available as animated GIFs, and some are available in other formats too.  Through trial and error, this was the format that was the most universally compatible.  It works on desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, PowerPoint slides, and different operating systems.  The downside is that the file size can get quite large for long loops.

But over the past two decades, I have helped dozens of people who requested assistance with using a specific loop: making a subset of a large one, resizing a loop to make it more social media-friendly, creating one in a different format such as MP4, and so on.  So if you want something that's not exactly available on the website, let me know and I'd be happy to help if I can.

I hope people continue to find this resource as useful as I have!

One other milestone anniversary to share: the "Tropical Atlantic Update" blog (the one you're reading) turned 25 this month!  I started it partway through the 1996 hurricane season when I was a junior at Lycoming College, and had no intention of doing it again in 1997.  But I did, and again in 1998, and then there was no turning back.  From the beginning, the intent was to write brief public-friendly updates on activity in the tropical Atlantic.  For the casual coastal resident or even weather enthusiast, it would provide the information needed to keep tuned in to what's going on... what, when, and where the threats were, if any.

It actually began as an email distribution list, and people could request to be added to the list.  It quickly grew to several hundred people, so managing it got simpler when I transitioned it to a more proper "blog" (the term "weblog", or "blog" for short, didn't exist then). Sadly, I don't have any of the posts archived from 1996-2001, so the first post available on here is from July 2002.  All of this was also well before social media existed, and before the wealth of model guidance websites that we enjoy today existed.

Over these past 25 years, I have written about 1350 updates spanning 430 tropical cyclones. During that time period, 50 storm names have been retired, so there was certainly no shortage of impactful activity to write about.

In summary, I just want to thank everyone who reads this for their interest over the years.  I know some of you have been with me from the humble beginnings, so a special thank you for not tuning me out yet!