Hampton University gets $5M NASA grant to help better track weather data

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – If you’ve driven along I-64 west near Hampton University lately, you may have noticed something new in your skyline: A large white dome now sits atop the Harbor Center Building, owned by Hampton University.

The dome is a protective fiberglass cover for a satellite dish. Installed at the end of September, the dish can receive real-time information from any weather satellite that passes overhead.

“For the Hampton Roads area, this will provide the most up-to-date information they can get,” explained Dr. William Moore, an associate professor with Hampton University’s Department of Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Dr. Moore spearheaded the application to receive the grant funding.

Photos: HU Weather Antenna

The data downloads to a control center, also in the Harbor Center. That will help students focus on scientific studies using the data to advance their research.

Moore says the data will also be sent to the local National Weather Service in Wakefield, which should help improve forecasting accuracy for the meteorologists working there.

“Relying on the national system, the data from the satellites will be one and a half to two hours old,” Moore explained. “So we will be able to improve on that time gap quite a bit. Virtually real-time data.”

While satellite data isn’t the only tool the NWS in Wakefield uses, giving them faster access to real time information will be especially helpful for fast-moving storms when every moment matters.

“Things like tornadoes, hail storms, lightning. But even for hurricanes, having those precise data points, having those data points helps you predict the track a little better,” Moore said.

The dish is one of just nine in the nation helping to fill an east coast gap. The next nearest dishes are in Miami and Baltimore.