NOAA image of Hurricane Katrina’s eyewall, taken by a Hurricane Hunter pilot on Aug. 28, 2005
Source: NOAA News
Hurricane Hunters Fly Directly Into the Storm
The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, AKA the “Hurricane Hunters”, fly directly into the eye of the storm…on purpose! Commanded by the Department of Commerce, their crews are based out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. The Hurricane Hunters are tasked with gathering vital weather data while flying through some of the biggest storms in our history. They’ve been flying into tropical storms and hurricanes for over 70 years.
Hurricane Hunters Mission
As stated on their Facebook page, the mission of the Hurricane Hunters is “To Safely deliver effective Earth observation capabilities, integrate emerging technologies and provide a specialized, flexible, and reliable team responsive to NOAA and the Nation.” They use technology to gather vital weather data from a tropical storm or hurricane as its happening.
This observed data can then be used to assist in the predication of a storm’s estimated path. That helps increase warning time and accuracy to residents in the storm’s potential path and can ultimately help save lives.
Hurricane Hunters Plane
If you’re like me, you’re thinking for sure the Hurricane Hunters are flying in some special hurricane-proof fighter jet. In reality, they penetrate the storms with one of their ten WC-130J (similar to the one shown in the image below), which is a slightly modified C130J. But, they’re not modified in the way you’d think. The aircraft is not reinforced. The modifications include additional fuel tanks for long range flights and extra weather observation equipment, specifically, two pallets.
The first pallet consists of a computer system for processing all of the weather data they are gathering during flight. The other pallet, called AVAPS for Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System, records real-time atmospheric conditions vertically below through a dropped transmitter called a dropsonde as it falls below. A Dropsonde is a package of instruments dropped from the aircraft that measures weather data as it falls to the surface. Its measurement capabilities include temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction, and GPS position. To get all necessary weather data, the Hurricane Hunters typically fly through a hurricane’s eye multiple times per mission!
I have to admit, when I first heard about the Hurricane Hunters, I figured it was a group of crazy rich guys that decided they wanted a thrill. Instead, it turns out that the work they really do is vital to the residents of the coastlines as far as accuracy of hurricane path predictions go. Without them, “estimated” paths of a hurricane would need to be much larger.
During my research for this blog post, I ran across some really cool videos and images. Here’s a video on youtube of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters flying into the eyewall of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.