Can you imagine putting the act of putting your very life in danger each and every time you go to work? The Hurricane hunters do just that; they are a group of pilots that fly directly into hurricanes. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is a part of the Air Force Reserve and flies into the eye of a hurricane in order to get information about it. The information gathered is then used by the National Hurricane Center in efforts to make predictions related to the hurricane such as the size, strength and path that it will take. Then local officials use the information to make decisions that can mean life or death for the citizens in the path of the hurricane.
The hurricane hunters have been flying directly into these deadly storms since 1944 and are the only organization in the Department of Defense to do so. Based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi the Hurricae Hunters utilize WC-130 aircraft during their weather mission.
The plane carries a six person crew consisting of the aircraft commander, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, weather officer and a dropsonde system operator. The dropsonde system operator is the person that releases a weather sensing canister attached to a parachute known; this device is a dropsonde. The dropsonde sends information back to the plan on the weather conditions inside the storm which is then process and sent to the National Hurricane Center through a satellite transmission.
The crew aboard the plan has been trained extensively to operate efficiently in these severe conditions. The pilots are made up of meteorologists and electronic engineers.
500 to 1500 feet is where the first mission is flow at; as the storms gets stronger the missions are flown at higher altitudes. They fly into the storm directly instead of just above it; straight into the line of thunder storms surrounding the area known as the eye wall. There are times when visibility is so bad that the crew can hardly see the wings of the plane they are in.
The information is fed into computers that develop models. The purpose is to help in making more accurate predictions and to assist those that research hurricanes develop a better understanding of the way they work and improve forecasting models in the future. They also get real time indications of the weather conditions that are working together and how they are influencing the hurricanes movements. It is helping to develop a better understanding of hurricanes overall.
When hurricane season ends the hurricane hunters take part in collecting data on winter storms.
Sources: http://www.fema.gov/kids/huhunt.htm http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/grounders/hurricanehunters.html http://www.datasync.com/~hhunters/