Hurricane hunters fly through extreme storms to forecast intensity – here’s what happens when the plane plunges into the eyewall

by | Jul 3, 2024 | Science

As a hurricane intensifies, hurricane hunters are in the sky doing something almost unimaginable: flying through the center of the storm. With each pass, the scientists aboard these planes take measurements that satellites can’t and send them to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center.Jason Dunion, a University of Miami meteorologist, has led hurricane field programs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He described the technology the team uses to gauge hurricane behavior in real time and the experience aboard a P-3 Orion as it plunges through the eyewall of a hurricane.What happens aboard a hurricane hunter when you fly into a storm?Basically, we’re take a flying laboratory into the heart of the hurricane, all the way up to Category 5s. While we’re flying, we’re crunching data and sending it to forecasters and climate modelers.In the P-3s, we routinely cut through the middle of the storm, right into the eye. Picture an X pattern – we keep cutting through the storm multiple times during a mission. These might be developing storms, or they might be Category 5s. We’re typically flying at an altitude of around 10,000 feet, about a quarter of the way between the ocean surface and the top of the storm. We want to cut through the roughest part of the storm because we’re trying to measure the strongest winds for the Hurricane Center.That has to be intense. Can you describe what scientists are experiencing on these flights?My most intense flight was Dorian in 2019. The storm was near the Bahamas and rapidly intensifying to a very strong Category 5 storm, with winds around 185 mph. It felt like being a feather in the wind.When we were coming through the eyewall of Dorian, it was all seat belts. You can lose a few hundred feet in a couple of seconds if you have a down draft, or you can hit an updraft and gain a few hundred feet in a matter of seconds. It’s a lot like a rollercoaster ride, only you don’t know exactly when the next up or down is coming. At one point, we had G-forces of 3 to 4 Gs. That’s what astronauts experience during a rocket launch. We can also get zero G for a few seconds, and anything that’s not strapped down will float off.Even in the rough parts of the storm, scientists like myself are busy on computers working up the data. A technician in the back may have launched a dropsonde from the belly of the plane, and we’re checking the quality of the data and sending it off to modeling centers and the National Hurricane Center.What are you learning about hurricanes from these flights?One of our goals is to better understand why storms rapidly intensify.Rapid intensification is when a storm increases in speed by 35 mph in just a day. That equates to going from Category 1 to a major Category 3 storm in a short period of time. Ida (2021), Dorian (2 …

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[mwai_chat context=”Let’s have a discussion about this article:nnAs a hurricane intensifies, hurricane hunters are in the sky doing something almost unimaginable: flying through the center of the storm. With each pass, the scientists aboard these planes take measurements that satellites can’t and send them to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center.Jason Dunion, a University of Miami meteorologist, has led hurricane field programs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He described the technology the team uses to gauge hurricane behavior in real time and the experience aboard a P-3 Orion as it plunges through the eyewall of a hurricane.What happens aboard a hurricane hunter when you fly into a storm?Basically, we’re take a flying laboratory into the heart of the hurricane, all the way up to Category 5s. While we’re flying, we’re crunching data and sending it to forecasters and climate modelers.In the P-3s, we routinely cut through the middle of the storm, right into the eye. Picture an X pattern – we keep cutting through the storm multiple times during a mission. These might be developing storms, or they might be Category 5s. We’re typically flying at an altitude of around 10,000 feet, about a quarter of the way between the ocean surface and the top of the storm. We want to cut through the roughest part of the storm because we’re trying to measure the strongest winds for the Hurricane Center.That has to be intense. Can you describe what scientists are experiencing on these flights?My most intense flight was Dorian in 2019. The storm was near the Bahamas and rapidly intensifying to a very strong Category 5 storm, with winds around 185 mph. It felt like being a feather in the wind.When we were coming through the eyewall of Dorian, it was all seat belts. You can lose a few hundred feet in a couple of seconds if you have a down draft, or you can hit an updraft and gain a few hundred feet in a matter of seconds. It’s a lot like a rollercoaster ride, only you don’t know exactly when the next up or down is coming. At one point, we had G-forces of 3 to 4 Gs. That’s what astronauts experience during a rocket launch. We can also get zero G for a few seconds, and anything that’s not strapped down will float off.Even in the rough parts of the storm, scientists like myself are busy on computers working up the data. A technician in the back may have launched a dropsonde from the belly of the plane, and we’re checking the quality of the data and sending it off to modeling centers and the National Hurricane Center.What are you learning about hurricanes from these flights?One of our goals is to better understand why storms rapidly intensify.Rapid intensification is when a storm increases in speed by 35 mph in just a day. That equates to going from Category 1 to a major Category 3 storm in a short period of time. Ida (2021), Dorian (2 …nnDiscussion:nn” ai_name=”RocketNews AI: ” start_sentence=”Can I tell you more about this article?” text_input_placeholder=”Type ‘Yes'”]
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