A satellite image from NOAA shows Hurricane Florence on the East Coast on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

Associated Press

Far from the East Coast, scientists and first responders from Colorado are playing an important role in helping with Hurricane Florence preparedness and recovery.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, scientists are some of the first to track Florence’s path and how severe the hurricane may be. They’re using technology called the High Resolution Rapid Refresh, which produces hourly predictions of how the weather will behave around Florence, said Curtis Alexander, who runs a modeling branch in NOAA's Boulder research lab.

“It's actually showing where the outer bands of thunderstorms are predicted to come onshore in the next several hours,” he said “We're looking at… the location of heavy rainfall that results in flooding, the location of intense winds that will obviously damage or destroy structures, fell trees, topple power lines, as well as other severe weather hazards.”

Much of Alexander’s work is in the research phase and may later be implemented at NOAA stations around the nation. His research focuses on improving forecasts and reducing the margin of error when predicting storms, he said.

A Finnish environmental company called Vaisala, which is headquartered in Louisville, has also helped with Hurricane Florence predictions. They manufacture sensors for dropsondes, which are released into hurricanes by airplanes to measure temperature, wind speed and other data within a storm. This information helps NOAA and the National Weather Service make predictions, said Kevin Petty, chief science officer with Vaisala.

A dropsonde manufactured in Louisville by Vaisala.

Courtesy of Vaisala

These dropsondes, which are 16 inches long and about the width of a paper towel roll, improve track and intensity forecasts by as much as 20 and 15 percent respectively, Petty said.

“When you look at storms such as Florence, it’s a very large storm. So a 20 percent improvement can make the difference on where that storm is going to impact different people and how evacuation should be done,” he said.

First responders also play a vital role in Florence’s disaster relief and recovery. More than 100 first responders from Colorado are already in parts of the East Coast. And most are well-experienced, having helped with hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Puerto Rico, among other natural disasters.

Fifteen people with Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are helping with logistics and public information at Emergency Operations Centers in Florida, the Carolinas and Virginia, said Micki Trost, a spokeswoman with the department.

Thirty volunteers with the Colorado & Wyoming Red Cross arrived earlier in the week. From a warehouse in North Carolina, Red Cross Spokesman Bill Fortune said volunteers prepared shelters and emergency vehicles ahead of the storm.

“We’re bringing in water and snacks, things that people are going to need,” he said. “Most importantly our volunteers are on scene and they’re ready to help the people that are going to be in need when the hurricane hits and after it makes landfall and when they’re trying to recover.”

One team of volunteers is dedicated to making sure evacuees with special needs or disabilities get any support they may need during and after the storm, Fortune said.

Forty-five members of a Colorado Urban Search and Rescue hauled several boats and other equipment, said Steve Aseltine, leader of the task force. They arrived in Greensboro Wednesday night.

“I think that we’re really prepared and we’re the best at doing this,” he said. “The amount of experience that’s responding to this event is enormous.”

A Colorado animal rescue organization is also helping with Hurricane Florence disaster response efforts. Code 3 Associates hauled an 82-foot trailer full of rescue equipment to the Carolinas. The organization will help rescue animals stranded by the storm, both on land and on water.