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How do search and rescue teams track weather in the field?


Operation-Specific Rescue Technology
Participants in the 7th annual Search and Rescue Forum, hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard and Virginia Port Authority, undergo maritime search and rescue training.
Participants in the 7th annual Search and Rescue Forum, hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard and Virginia Port Authority, undergo maritime search and rescue training.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill

Other technologies have been developed to help rescuers predict the effects of weather specific to certain types of search and rescue operations. U.S. Coast Guard workers in Long Island Sound, for example, use a computer program to create "drift models" that predict how wind and currents might move a person lost at sea. Similar software has also been used to find Air France Flight 447 crash wreckage in waters off Brazil and monitor Japanese tsunami debris in the Pacific Ocean [sources: Kramer, U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA].

Firefighters and rescue workers, meanwhile, often rely on information from Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) to monitor weather during forest fires. A network of roughly 2,200 RAWS are scattered across the United States, operated by the National Interagency Fire Center and used to predict fire patterns, based on wind and air conditions [sources: Forest Technology Services, U.S. Department of Commerce].

Much of the RAWS data is also available to anyone with access to the web. ROMAN is a Web site operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that provides detailed weather information gleaned directly from the National Weather Service and the RAWS network. Short for Real-time Observation Monitor and Analysis Network, the site allows users to search with geographic coordinates and obtain information about current weather conditions as well as detailed 24-hour forecasts[source: Careless].

There is one more noteworthy piece of technology that will help reduce the danger of search and rescue operations in severe weather situations. Unmanned drones, best-known for military and surveillance operations, can also be used to locate missing or stranded persons. Drones are equipped with cameras, infrared and other technologies that allow them to pinpoint a person's location or determine conditions inside a burning building or analyze weather data. This can save rescue workers precious time and resources. Currently drones are not used in search and rescue operations but the U.S. Coast Guard is considering purchasing some for extreme weather conditions [source: Practical Sailor].