Hurricane hunters continue to evolve and create awareness

Hurricane hunters continue to evolve and create awareness


Hurricane experts across the Gulf Coast say it can be a real challenge to get the public to start thinking about personal disaster plans. That effort ramps up every year around this time and part of the strategy involves the world famous "hurricane hunters."

“I didn't know we were coming out,” said Javier Williams who was delighted to join emergency managers and students recently, to learn all about the planes that fly into hurricanes and the men and women who take those missions.

“I think they are tremendously brave,” Carol Butcher said.
Major Kyle Larson is a meteorologist that flies.

“It's fairly important," he said. "There's a lot of things that satellites can do, but they can't quite get a handle on where the exact center of the storm is and how strong the surface winds are in that storm.” 

As part of NOAA's  Hurricane Awareness Tour, New Orleans Lakefront Airport welcomes the public to get a first-hand look at the hurricane hunters and the tools on-board. The technology includes sensors in packages called drop sondes that are dropped from the plane. These sondes transmit that important data to the plane and almost instantaneously back to the national hurricane center in Miami.

Ed Scherzer mans the drop station.

“The barometric pressure is the biggie," he said. "That's the one that's going to determine whether the storm is actually increasing in intensity or decreasing."

Most of the time when we think of hurricane hunters, its these big C-130s that fly out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, but there are actually three different planes that are used as hurricane hunters. We have another example in the Gulfstream. This one is a lot more streamlined, but used to see a different part of the storm. It’s based in Tampa.

“I liken the aircraft to a cheetah," Lt. Commander James Monsoor said. "It's lean, it's sleek, we go very high and very fast.”

Monsoor pilots the G4 that investigates the upper atmosphere.

“It's all about using the right tools for the right job, he said. "The Air Force Reserve C-130 is like a rhinoceros. It is big. It's heavy. It's slow, but it's very tough and the job it does is unique going through hurricane eyewalls.”

The third type of plane did not make this trip, but we had the opportunity to see the P-3 on a tour a few years ago. That plane is adding a new task that will help improve forecast even more.

“Using this platform gives us the opportunity to get down into an area that an aircraft normally wouldn't be flying in.” The Coyote is an experimental unmanned aerial system, Warnecke said. “It flew successfully in hurricane Edouard back in September of last year 2015.It had a minute and 21 second flight. Got back some really good information.”

The hope is that Coyotes will be able to get information very close to the surface in targeted areas with pre-programmed or remote piloted flights.

Dan Brown, a senior forecaster with the National Hurricane Center said, “We also have an experiment with NASA where they are flying a Global Hawk drone over the storm that can stay in the storm and over the storm for several hours.”

“I think all these advances in technology if they can mitigate the risk to human life like myself I'm ok with that because we all want to go home at the end of the mission and if that means I can't fly anymore so be it,”

Manned or unmanned, the information gathered by flying into a storm is invaluable.

“They increase the accuracy they say up to 25 to 30 percent based on the data that we provide,” Scherzer said,

“Measure what the winds are at the flight level and at the surface that's when we really helps us understand just how powerful a storm is,” Brown said

The director of the National Hurricane Center said allowing the public to get a first-hand look at these valuable tools helps keep readiness top of mind.

“I really want people to realize how direct of a connection there is between the data we collect from these aircraft and the brave men and women who fly them and their own personal safety,” Dr. Rick Knabb said,

He also says the start of a new hurricane season is when everyone should ramp up their own personal disaster plan. Now is the time to stock up on supplies, review your insurance coverage, and make an evacuation plan. They are pro-active steps that can help you weather any trouble the tropics may send our way this year.

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