DISCUSSION: As early as August 17th, Hurricane Hunters have investigated the beginning of what was Harvey amid shower and thunderstorm activity from a potential tropical wave seen on August 13th care of the National Hurricane Center.
Initial reconnaissance began with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base. Air Force reconnaissance coupled with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters play an integral role in providing information to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Data collected during hurricanes via heavily equipped aircraft allow for improvement to forecasts, providing assistance in inner storm fluxes, tendencies and intensity.
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron made over 10 flights into Harvey utilizing dropsondes to transmit data to the National Hurricane Center. The critical data that the NHC received was able to upgrade Harvey to a tropical depression by August 23rd, 1500 UTC, by August 24th 0600 UTC Harvey gained tropical storm status only several hours later to become hurricane by 1700 UTC.
NOAA in particular utilizes 2 types of aircraft to gather data in effort to increase understanding of a storms processes.
P-3 Orion: This particular aircraft has a flight path which typically includes directly into the storm. Armed with scientists and/or military personnel, those aboard can utilize dropsondes, to evaluate wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity within the storm. In addition to GPS which may be added to the dropsonde the P-3 is equipped with tail Doppler radar in conjunction with fuselage mounted radar, which allow scientist onboard to have real-time storm data. The addition of NOAAs Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometers (SFMRs) have changed the way forecasters view storm surge due to their ability to measure “over-ocean wind speed and rain rates” within storms. Not forgetting the deployable bathythermographs onboard that are able to measure the ocean temperature, a good measure of energy needed for ample formation.
Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV): The Gulfsteam’s ability to fly at such a high altitude of 45,000 ft allows it to investigate the upper atmosphere especially during developing systems. Not shy to dropsonde and tail Doppler radar, this aircraft can view the upper atmospheric currents that may aid in determining storm propagation.
For more information on aviation, hurricane hunters or weather visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
“Aircraft Operations.” NOAA Hurricane Hunters | Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, 2 June 2017, www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/aircraft-operations/about/hurricane-hunters. Accessed 30 Aug. 2017.
“Air Force Hurricane Hunters Track Harvey.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 25 Aug. 2017, www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1290882/air-force-hurricane-hunters-track-harvey/. Accessed 30 Aug. 2017.