Gathering hurricane info: leave it to the pros

WMBF Storm Team (WMBF) The WMBF Storm Team is always tracking any developments in the tropics, but we couldn't do it without the information the Hurricane Hunters gather.  They're part of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in the Air Force Reserve stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi.

When a storm begins to form, the Hurricane Hunters are sent out to investigate whether it has circulation, meaning is the storm rotating counter clockwise.   If it does, the crew flies into the center of the storm to collect data that is sent back via satellite to the National Hurricane Center.  That information includes flight level winds, which tells us how strong the upper portion of the storm is.  The Hurricane Hunters also measure the winds at the surface and the pressure inside the storm.  This information is used to make forecasts that we can then pass onto you.

"We want to know where the storm is, what it's doing and where it's going.  We need to get an aircraft in there because we need to know surface effects and you can only do that with an aircraft, so I don't think we're going to stop doing this any time soon," says Al Girimonte, a pilot.

The aircraft flown into the storm though, is not your typical airplane.

"It's a special airplane.  There is a lot of special equipment on board and sensors and data collectors that make this a flying lab," explains Girimonte.

All the sensors and  radars on board allow meteorologists to really analyze the storm, by flying into it at 5,000 feet.  The most turbulent part of the storm is the eye wall, but once inside the eye itself, it's quiet.  This is where meteorologists really get a good look at the storm.  The Hurricane Hunters drop anywhere from 25 to 50 dropsondes.  A dropsonde is like a weather balloon that we release into the air to gather information.  Instead of going up into the air like a weather balloon, a dropsonde is dropped from the plane down into the tropical storm.

Girimont adds, "A little drag shoot comes out kind of to arrest its descent into the storm as it descends down to the surface of the water the entire time it's out there it's beaming up wind speed, direction, pressure, temperature and relative humidity, along with the GPS coordinates."

The information from the dropsondes are sent back via satellite to the National Hurricane Center who in turn relays it to the media and the public.  The data is also used in the long run to help meteorologists better understand tropical storms and hurricanes so that they can forecast them more effectively.

On a side note, did you know the Hurricane Hunters began as a bar bet between the Americans and the British?  In 1944, some Army Air Corps pilots bet that their American Built single engine aircraft was better than its British counterpart.  Not long after the bet was made, Major Joe Duckworth flew his "Texan" trainer into the eye of a hurricane, twice.

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