The phrase “Hurricane Hunters” refers to aircrews that fly into hurricanes to gather meteorological data. The U.S Air Force Reserve 53rd Renaissance Squadron and NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters undertake these missions. The idea of flying aircraft into hurricanes started off with a bet. Pilots were being instructed to fly away from an impending hurricane headed towards the Galveston,Texas area. After hearing this, British pilots challenged and disagreed with the policy. In response, Colonel Joseph Duckworth flew an AT-6 trainer into the 1943 “Surprise Hurricane”. This was an unapproved mission and Duckworth, accompanied by Navigator Colonel Ralph O’Hair, became the first two hurricane hunters. The nickname Hurricane Hunters was coined in 1946 and has become the calling card for the airmen ever since.
The goal of these missions is to provide meteorologists with data to aid them in making accurate forecasts. They also aid researchers studying hurricanes. The NOAA uses two Lockheed Martin WP-30D Orion aircraft to man these missions. They are named Kermit and Miss Piggy respectively. The planes go through the eyewall and various levels of the storm taking in data from each level until reaching the calm eye of the storm. This process is repeated over the 8 to 10 hour mission. As they fly through the storm, they drop GPS radiosondes which monitor pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed. This gives valuable data on the structure of the hurricane and its intensity. The Doppler Radar attached at the plane’s tail and other radar systems give meteorologists a 3-D look into the storm. In research operations, they are equally as valuable. They have been used in storms approaching America and Europe in studies of El Nino, atmospheric aerosols, and large convective storms.
NOAA Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) “Gonzo” is another facet of Hurricane Hunters, and this plane primarily focuses on the upper and lower portions of the atmosphere. It has a cruising altitude of 45,000 ft. They use the same concept of dropping radiosondes to collect data. This gives data on the direction of the storm and what direction the atmosphere may steer it in. They also are deployed for winter storms and the study of atmospheric rivers. These two aircraft are manned at NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland, FL. During the time period where hurricanes are not prevalent, planes are flown for other meteorological research purposes.
Photo Creds: NOAA Hurricane Hunters
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©2020 Weather Forecaster Dakari Anderson