The Hurricane Hunters from both NOAA and the 53rd Weather Reconnoissance Squadron have been busy lately. Fresh from their observations of Hurricane Harvey as the storm tortured Texas and Louisiana, both teams are now flying through three hurricanes that are currently churning in the Atlantic.
The hurricane attracting the most interest right now is Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Irma is a monster storm. It has already caused significant destruction in the Caribbean, destroying homes, businesses, and even damaging the world-famous Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten.
With maximum sustained winds currently (as of 7:00PM ET on Sept 9, 2017) at 135 MPH, the strong category three hurricane is expected to strengthen on Saturday evening before landfall on Florida’s west coast on Sunday morning. How much the storm strengthens is a factor of water temperature, upper level shearing winds, and path. The projected path is projected through combination of satellite imagery, data models, air, and ground/buoy observations.
Hurricane Hunters improve the accuracy of forecasts that save lives
Satellite and ground data isn’t enough though to produce a completely accurate forecast though. The hurricane hunting flights serve a critical purpose. While flying through the storm, the crew measures the winds, structure of the storm (moisture, cloud profiles), pressure changes, and turbulence. The crew also uses dropsondes to gain a profile of winds and pressure at various altitudes. Each probe that is ejected from the WC-130J transmits observations and location throughout the descent. That information is transmitted to the National Hurricane Center to refine forecasts and update the projected path of the storm.