Friday, June 18, 2010

NEQ Friday Review, V.7

In the past week we’ve watched a hopeful tropical cyclone (92L) get ripped apart in the Atlantic and saw two depressions flare up in the eastern Pacific, one of which became the second named tropical storm of that basin’s hurricane season.

92L didn’t do much but cause some hype and get us even more excited for an intense Atlantic season ahead, and when things really do get going, you can bet the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters will be on top of the storm (no pun intended). This week’s NEQ Friday Review takes a look at how this recon team makes calculated risks to help save lives and protect property.

These hurricane hunters are the only operational unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis. Airborne in a tropical cyclone for hours at a time, the crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight meteorologist and weather-reconnaissance loadmaster. Slicing through the eyewall of a hurricane, buffeted by howling winds, blinding rain, hail, and violent updrafts and downdrafts before entering the relative calm of the storm, the team works together during their mission to continuously collect critical weather data and send it directly to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) via satellite communications.

Initial missions are flown at low levels, between 500 feet and 1,500 feet. As the storm strengthens, the hurricane hunters enter higher altitudes, where, when the storm is strong enough, they’ll make several passes through the eye.

Among a wide variety of tools hurricane hunters use and deploy on their mission, are GPS-enabled dropsondes, which they release into the eye of a storm to obtain measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed, therefore providing a better idea of a storm’s structure and its intensity.

As dangerous (or exciting) as this seems, for most hurricane hunters, this is what they live for and are willing to die for. And guess what? It’s all for us – to improve forecasts and protect our lives and property.

Have a great weekend and be hurricane ready!