Whenever a powerful hurricane threatens American shores, the Hurricane Hunters deploy.
The main goal of these missions is to keep people safe and provide forecasters up to date with the most accurate information.
The Hurricane Hunters logo on the tail end of the plane says it all. The men and women on board aren’t just hunting down these massive storm systems — they’re flying right into them.
On Aug. 6, the Air Force Reserve Command crew circled and flew into then-Hurricane Iselle, dropping sondes, or GPS-linked sensors.
They fed data back to the plane which was then sent to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and other forecasters.
Now why would anyone want to fly into a hurricane when most people are trying to get away from them? For the crew on board, it’s their job and a very important one at that.
“We want to be exact on what the winds are,” said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, the Hunters’ chief meteorologist. “What type of strong winds are going to affect a particular area and that aids in evacuation.”
“We’re taking a machine right into the middle of it to get data to make sure we have an accurate forecast for the public’s safety,” added weather officer Jonathan Brady.
It’s a job the crewmembers say is rewarding.
“It’s a proud feeling for the whole crew when you can see how useful your information is,” said Talbot.
So now that we’ve answered the question of what they do and why they do it, how do they get all that information?
“We drop sondes every time we go through the center, and these are like weather balloons, except they go down in a parachute versus going up in a balloon, and they target to a specific spot in the sky,” said
The sondes are dropped along each pass. The probes provide data four times a second back to the airplane, and from there, those on board can get a vertical 3D map of the winds in the storm.
The sondes aren’t the only devices the Hurricane Hunters drop. Buoys are also used.
“So the buoys take a reading of the temperature in the upper surface, down to anywhere between 400 to 800 meters,” said oceanographer Elizabeth Sanabia.
And that’s crucial in determining how strong a storm can get.
“So the ocean is a heat source for hurricanes,” she said, “so it’s what provides the lift and buoyancy to the near surface air and gives you increased intensity of your hurricane. We try to improve our understanding of what impact the hurricane has on the ocean as well as what the ocean is doing to the hurricane.”
What the Hurricane Hunters do is not for the faint of heart, but someone has to do it. The good thing is, they are the best of the best.
“The more accurate the forecast, the better everyone’s going to be,” said Brady, “so to be a part of that, I’m pretty proud.”