Hurricane Hunters evolving with the storms, technology

Posted on June 13, 2014 

— The ultimate mission of the "World Famous" Hurricane Hunters is the same, but the tasks within the main objective seem to change annually.

Saturday's Sun Herald will include a write-up on the Hunters' latest tasks, relaying screen captures of their radar system to the National Hurricane Center in Miami and ramping up their buoy placement. By next season, Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, chief meteorologist for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, said they could be working with a new algorithm that's designed to improve accuracy when flying through storms that aren't quite hurricane strength.

Talbot said the Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer on the WC-130J aircraft -- affectionately nicknamed "The Smurf" -- works great in hurricane-force winds. However, in lighter wind speeds where there's rain "the signal from the rain sometimes overwhelms the signal that we get from the ocean, which is the wind signal," Talbot said.

He said that disruption can cause the wind measurements to be too strong.

"It's a known issue and something the Hurricane Center is well aware of," he said. "We can look at the data and tell when the wind speeds aren't correct because of what they're seeing in the data."

Talbot reiterated that "The Smurf" operates fine in hurricane conditions; it's only in a tropical depression or weaker tropical storm where it's an issue.

As a result, Talbot said the folks at the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA have developed a new algorithm to "make that lower wind speed more accurate."

He said the new algorithm still has to undergo more testing and could be implemented next season.

One for one
The Hurricane Hunters didn't waste any time suiting up. Last weekend the Hunters traveled to the southwest quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico on their first reconnaissance mission of the season, according to the 403rd Wing's public affairs office.

The original takeoff was set for 11 a.m. June 6, but shortly after takeoff, Maj. John Brady noticed a fuel leak outside window and the crew returned to Keesler Air Force Base to use another aircraft a few hours later.

Talbot said the delay threw off the timeline of the mission. So, instead of checking out the developing storm, the Hunters performed a coast patrol mission, which included flying five miles off of the shore and gathering wind speed data.

Brady said that although the storm didn't develop into a named system, it was good to get the first mission of the season out of the way.

For more on the Hurricane Hunters, checkout the June 14 edition of the Sun Herald.

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