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Weather Blog: Hurricane Hunters

Date:2018-10-15Auto Engine Information Click:

(WRDW/WAGT) -- Forecasting hurricanes is a tricky business, but it has improved drastically. One of the biggest reasons for improved forecasts and research of tropical systems is the NOAA Hurricane Hunters. Hurricane Hunters fly directly into hurricanes to gather critical data for meteorologists back on the ground.

NOAA Hurricanes Hunters are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps, which is under the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations in NOAA. Planes in the Hurricane Hunters fleet operate out of NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center at MacDill Air force Base in Tampa, Florida.

There are three planes in the Hurricane Hunters fleet. There are two Lockheed WP-3D Orion (P-3 Orion) airplanes named "Miss Piggy" and "Kermit". The P-3 Orion is a 4 engine turboprop aircraft and is responsible for flying directly into tropical systems to gather data. It also has a Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) Jet, which is used to fly above the storm and analyze the upper atmosphere. The G-IV jets have a cruising altitude up to 45,000 feet and can travel 4,000 nautical miles.

Weather Blog: Hurricane Hunters

The two different types of planes perform different functions to gather data. The P-3 Orion missions are used to gather middle and lower atmosphere data. One of the ways they gather data is by deploying dropwindsondes directly into tropical systems. Dropwindsondes are devices that are released from the aircraft to measure pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction. This data is essential to understanding the weakening and strengthening of tropical systems. Bathythermographs are also released during these missions and they are used to measure ocean temperatures. The warmer the ocean is, the more potential there is for strengthening. There are also two Doppler radars attached to the aircraft. One is located on the tail and the other on the fuselage. Both radars are used to create a three dimensional view of the storm in real time. And last, but certainly not least, is the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR). The SFMR has a very important role of analyzing over-ocean wind speed and rainfall rates, which helps forecast storm surge. Storm surge is often the most dangerous hazard associated with land falling tropical systems.

Weather Blog: Hurricane Hunters

When the G-IV Jet is sent out, its mission is a little different. The G-IV focuses on the upper atmosphere around hurricanes. It gathers data through similar mechanisms on the P-3 Orion, like dropwindsondes and Doppler radar, but it covers the air above and around the storm, which is not covered by P-3 Orion missions. This data is useful for forecasting steering currents, which helps meteorologists make the "cone of uncertainty" regarding the future path of tropical systems.

Gathering data through the entire layer of the atmosphere allows meteorologists to better understand the outflow and inflow of the storm. A tropical system is like an engine. It has an intake and exhaust just like your car. The P-3 Orion mission focuses on the inflow, while the the G-IV gets the outflow data. Historically, track forecasts have been more accurate than intensity forecasts, but high quality data obtained by Hurricane Hunters have helped improve accuracy.

During the off season, the Hurricane Hunter fleet is used for observing and analyzing different weather phenomena around the world. The G-IV and P-3 Orion assist during severe weather events, winter storms, and even gather data for research purposes.

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