As the hurricane season starts to ramp up over the next few months, a special group of pilots, engineers, and meteorologists make it their mission to gather vital weather information. These people are known as the hurricane hunters.
“When the National Hurricane Center needs to know what the lowest pressure is in the eye, how strong the winds are in the eye wall, we gather that information and beam it directly to the hurricane center via satellite.” -Richard Henning Hurricane Hunter Flight Director
A wide range of sensors and radars are installed on the aircraft to provide up to the second conditions.
“We have all kinds of ways to measure temperature, humidity, wind speed, direction using the aircraft. And then we release sensors which we call dropsondes that fall by parachute. They’re sort of the opposite of a weather balloon instead of going up they go down. And they’re measuring all those same things getting the atmospheric profile below the aircraft until they hit the ocean.”
All the data collected is fed into the computer models which help forecasters predict the speed, direction, and intensity of the storm. A second aircraft is also used to sample the environment around the storm.
“The gulf stream jet flies in the area surrounding the storm what we call the steering currents. And those observations are critical in determining whether a storm is going to veer to the left, veer to the right, slow down, or speed up.”
And even with advances in satellite technology, it is the aircraft that is still the best way to get data directly from the storm.
“People may think it is kinda crazy to fly into hurricanes, but the best way to gather data in terms of how strong the storm is, is by flying an airplane into it.”
It takes nearly four hours of recording observations inside the storm for the Hurricane Hunters to gather all the data needed by the National Hurricane Center.