Hurricane Hunters

From Academic Kids

The name Hurricane Hunters is the nickname for two groups that fly instrumented aircraft into Atlantic hurricanes for the purpose of data collection. The term is typically used to refer to the U.S. Air Force Reserves' 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates a fleet of ten WC-130s from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The other group is NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center (AOC), which operates two WP-3D Orions and a Gulfstream IV-SP from MacDill AFB, Florida.



Although satellite data has revolutionized weather forecasters' ability to spot tropical cyclones before they form, there are still many important tasks for which it is not suited. Satellite imagery cannot determine interior barometric pressure of a hurricane, nor can it provide accurate information about wind speeds. These data are needed by forecasters to accurately predict a hurricane's development and movement.

Because satellites cannot collect the data, and ships are too slow and vulnerable to large storm-generated waves, the only platforms available for collecting this data are aircraft.


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NOAA's Lockheed WP-3D Orions are nicknamed "Miss Piggy" and "Kermit".

The WC-130 and WP-3D aircraft are both large sturdy cargo planes with turboprop engines. Their purpose is to fly directly into the hurricane, typically penetrating the hurricane's eye several times in one mission. In contrast, NOAA's Gulfstream IV-SP circles hurricanes at high altitude, collecting weather data about the storms' surroundings.

All three aircraft models have been heavily modified through the addition of multiple large weather radars, dropsonde support, and meteorology stations. The aircraft are not specially strengthened for the task of investigating hurricanes.

Outside of hurricane season, hurricane hunter aircraft are often deployed to northern parts of the United States to track winter storms and nor'easters.

Other aircraft have been used to investigate hurricanes, including an instrumented U-2 that was flown in Hurricane Ginny during the 1963 Atlantic hurricane season.


1943 Surprise Hurricane

The 1943 Surprise Hurricane, which struck Houston, Texas during World War II, marked the first intentional meteorological flight into a hurricane. It started with a bet.

That summer, British pilots were being trained in instrument flying at Bryan Field. When the British pilots saw that the Americans were evacuating their AT-6 Texan trainers in the face of the storm, they began questioning the construction of the aircraft. Lead instructor Colonel Joe Duckworth took one of the trainers out, and flew it straight into the eye of the storm. After he returned safely with navigator Lt. Ralph O'Hair, the base's weather officer, Lt. William Jones-Burdick, took over the navigator's seat and Duckworth flew into the storm a second time.

This flight showed that hurricane reconnaissance flights were possible, and further flights continued on an irregular basis. In 1975, the U.S. Air Force Reserve established a dedicated squadron for the purpose of flying into hurricanes and other severe storms.

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