Orlando, Fla. – As you can imagine, hurricane hunters have a jammed packed schedule from June through Nov. 20, which is known as the Atlantic hurricane season, but their flight missions continue almost year-round.
Hurricane hunters is a group of men and women with NOAA and the U.S. Air Force reserve that flies through the center of hurricanes collecting data to send back to forecasters and scientists. The real-time data that is ingested from these hourslong missions help paint a better picture of the internal happenings within a hurricane that can’t be seen from satellites or surface observations.
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But their expertise on flying into storms doesn’t stop with just with hurricanes. For the past two decades, from November to mid-April, two of their aircrafts are deployed to investigate large winter storms.
One prime example is the large bomb cyclone slamming the west coast of the U.S. with heavy rain and damaging winds and snow for areas in California and Oregon and Washington. Forecasters anticipate it to be one of the most significant storms to impact California in years. For that reason, hurricane hunters are currently on standby in California ready to fly into a series of powerful winter storms expected in the next few weeks.
But just like hurricanes and tropical systems, data is limited when storms are sitting in the middle of the ocean. But that is where hurricane hunters play that pivotal role in data collecting, to better prepare those in the storm’s path.
The NOAA Gulf Stream and the USAF Reserve WC-130 are the two that play a vital part in gathering data during their hurricane off-season. They have flown over the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast and even over the Pacific Ocean to collect information to help predict and forecast the large impacts that winter storms can deliver, like wind, rain freezing rain, snow and storm surge.
Crews are dispatched by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Maryland. According to NOAA, depending upon where the winter storm could develop, the aircraft are sent out to areas along both coasts. This includes the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California for winter storms, including atmospheric rivers that affect the U.S. West Coast.
Just like in hurricane missions, the flight is coordinated by the chief, aerial reconnaissance coordination all hurricanes, also known as CARCAH, located in Miami. During their missions they deploy a series of dropsondes over the region, gathering fata like temperature, wind moisture and pressure.
Just because winter storms aren’t officially named, it doesn’t mean they don’t pack a nasty punch. And no matter what time of the year, the hurricane hunters are there to answer the call.