NOAA Hurricane Hunters

posted Jul 11, 2012, 7:53 PM by Tom Kachelman   [ updated Jul 11, 2012, 7:59 PM ]
During hurricane Jimena's approach to Baja we read and hear about the hurricane hunters. Here a little more them. Satellite images of hurricanes show a unique and characteristic cloud formation, signaling an intense tropical weather system.The powerful storms spawned in the tightly coiled systems produce heavy rain and winds with maximum sustained speeds of 74 mph/64 knots (33 m/s). The United States has a significant hurricane problem.There are already some 45 million permanent residents along the hurricane-prone coastlines – and the population is still growing. A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone – a general term for all weather systems circulating (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) over tropical waters. Hurricanes are products of the tropical ocean and atmosphere. Powered by heat from the sea, they are steered by the easterly trade winds and the temperate westerlies, as well as by their own ferocious energy. Around their core, winds grow to a great velocity, generating violent seas. Moving ashore, they sweep the ocean inward while spawning tornadoes and producing torrential rains and floods. Each year an average of ten tropical storms (of which six become hurricanes), dev e lop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico. Every three years, about five hurricanes strike the United States coastline. Two of the five will be major hurricanes (category 3 or greater, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The scale from minimum to maximum is 1 to 5).

Specially equipped NOAA aircraft play an integral role in hurricane forecasting. NOAA’s Hurricane Research Scientists fly a Gulfstream G-IV Jet beyond hurricanes at high altitudes (40,000–45,000 feet) and two WP-3 Orion turboprops into hurricanes at low altitudes (1,500 – 10,000 feet), to collect research data. During their missions, these aircraft release Vaisala RD93 GPS dropwindsondes used for weather reconnaissance, hurricane and weather research. NOAA Corps pilots, who support the civilian scientists and engineering staff of the Aircraft Operations Center (AOC), are among an elite group of pilots who are trained to fly into hurricanes, sometimes at dangerously low altitudes. Specially equipped NOAA aircraft play an integral role in hurricane forecasting. Data collected during hurricanes by these high-flying meteorological stations and from a variety of other sources are fed into numerical computer models, to help forecasters predict how intense a hurricane can be, and where it will make landfall. NOAA’s WP-3 Orion Hurricane Research Aircraft are among the most advanced airborne environmental research platforms for the study of severe storms and global climate change.

The Aircraft Operations Center (AOC) was created in 1983 to consolidate the aviation assets of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Its versatile aircraft collect the environmental and geographic data essential to NOAA hurricane research. The aircraft operate in some of the world’s most remote and demanding flight regimes – over open ocean, mountains and coastal wetlands, in and around hurricanes or other severe weather. Research flying is a team effort, every crew member and the research instruments they operate must work together for each flight to be a success. This includes the dropsondes.The accuracy of the Vaisala instrument and the information it collects directly affects the weather forecasts for the entire Northern Hemisphere.

Remarkable memory for one of the pilots
Lieutenant Commander White says his most memorable experience was a flight into Hurricane Hugo as the navigator on a WP-3 aircraft in September 1989, during a mission originating from Barbados. “During this low-level research mission, the aircraft experienced extreme turbulence upon entering the eyewall of Hurricane Hugo, at an altitude of 1,500 feet (452 m). After a precautionary shutdown of one of the engines during the eye-w a l l penetration and the subsequent entry of the calm eye at about 800 feet (243 m), the 3-engine, 1-hour climb to a safer altitude in the small eye of Hugo, together with the penetration of the eyewall to exit and the subsequent ferry back to Barbados formed the most sobering experience of my life.”
The center, or eye, of a hurricane is relatively calm. The most violent activity takes place in the area immediately around the eye, called the eyewall. At the top of the eyewall, (about 50,000 feet /15,240 m), most of the air is propelled outward, increasing the air’s upward motion.
Original published on: Sep 20, 2009 @ 9:29