LAKELAND, FL - With Hurricane Florence threatening the East Coast, NOAA's Hurricane Hunters are conducting multiple missions a day to collect as much data as possible to improve the National Hurricane Center's forecast.
These eight-hour missions collect upper and lower atmospheric data by releasing dropsondes into and in front of Hurricane Florence. These devices fall from 45,000 feet to the ocean surface. On their way down, the data is sent back to the plane instantly and is later ingested into forecast models.
"You are able to sample the environment immediately around the storm, so all the things that weather forecasters talk about when they talk about wind shear and dry air and other things that may affect the intensity of the storm," said Richard Henning, Flight Director.
As major Hurricane Florence continues approaching the East Coast, the NOAA Hurricane Hunters are collecting data samples from their upper air analysis plane, the Gulfstream Four.
With every hurricane flight comes new data on how Hurricane Florence is evolving over the Atlantic Ocean. Tuesday's mission started with a briefing of the flight path and the objectives.
After the meeting, we boarded the flight around 1 a.m. and the crew got right to work.
Within the first 30 minutes of the flight, the first dropsonde was already deployed in the atmosphere in front of Hurricane Florence. This is going to be a process repeated 26 more times throughout the course of the flight.
The crew even let me release a few dropsondes, which began sending back data from the storm instantaneously.
"They transmit the really important data that the computer models need, which are things like pressure, temperatures, humidity wind direction, and wind speed," Henning said.
This plane is also equipped with a unique set of radars in the nose and tail. This allows NOAA to see inside the storm, like a CAT scan, which is especially useful during the night.
In addition to the Gulfstream 4, NOAA also uses a P-3 airplane that is commonly seen flying in the eye of storms and collected lower level atmospheric analysis.
All of this data is collected and ingested into models that will improve the forecast of Florence's path and intensity.
"It gives us the kind of measurements with a high accuracy that really defines how the model initiates. You won't find any other aircraft like this in the world and there's a lot of great people too," said engineer, Jeff Hartberger.
The NOAA Hurricane Hunters will continue these missions until Hurricane Florence gets close enough to the shore that surface observations can take over the forecast.