Hunting Hurricanes with Military Might

Posted by on June 2, 2014 in Storm Science | Comments Off on Hunting Hurricanes with Military Might

Advanced meteorological instrumentation on board military aircraft means increased hurricane awareness, preparedness.

As the 2014 hurricane season commences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is once again teaming up with the U.S. Air Force for their annual Hurricane Hunter’s Awareness Tour. The tour features stops throughout the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as American hurricane hot spots like Florida, Texas and Louisiana, and is designed to build stronger relationships between international meteorological agencies, civil protection agencies and media agencies to increase public safety during this potentially tumultuous season.

Hunting in the eye of the storm

With a fleet of aircraft specially equipped with data-collecting instrumentation, the NOAA and the U.S. Air Force’s Weather Reconnaissance Squadron come together to form the Hurricane Hunter. Designed to withstand the extreme conditions of an hurricane, these planes fly directly into the belly of the beast. During tropical storms and hurricanes, these Hurricane Hunters make several passes through the storm’s eye, each time collecting atmospheric data. The Hunters then transmit data via satellite directly to the National Hurricane Center for expert analysis. This data helps predict changes to the hurricane’s path and strength which then contributes to evacuation plans that can drastically minimize casualties.     

Drones join the hunt

Due to a military surplus, NASA has obtained a handful of military drones to join the hurricane awareness and study efforts. Equipped with the same meteorological equipment as its manned counterpart, the Global Hawk drones, dubbed the “severe storm sentinels”  serve as a way to safely study the storm without risking pilot or crewmen lives. Further, due to Hurricane Hunter policy, pilots and crewmen are limited to two-to-four hour flights to combat fatigue. The refitted drones are rated with a 30-hour flight time which means scientists have a much wider window to study the storm, in real time, and can go to plan more accurate and timely evacuation plans.