Aviation News

January 13, 2012

Hurricane Hunter Jet Being Used to Forecast Winter Storms

What is a Hurricane Hunter to do once hurricane season ends?

This winter, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using one of its Gulfstream IV-SP “Hurricane Hunter” jets to help forecast winter storms from a seemingly unlikely place: Hawaii.

NOAA Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter N49RF

NOAA Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter (N49RF). (Photo by NOAA)

It is in the skies over the relatively balmy central Pacific Ocean that the worst snow storms gather their moisture and intensity before slamming the U.S. mainland a few days later.

From 45,000 feet above the Pacific, east and west of Hawaii — and sometimes as far north as Alaska — data on wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature and humidity are fed from the plane’s sensors to meteorologists onboard, much the same way they survey hurricanes. A U.S. Air Force Reserve weather reconnaissance plane flies along at lower altitudes to supplement the data.

“These atmospheric observations, combined with satellite and other data, have proven to significantly enhance four-to-seven day winter weather forecasts” said Capt. Barry Choy, chief science officer for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), part of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Improved forecasts mean longer warning lead times for the public, emergency managers, air carriers, utility companies and others to prepare for significant winter storms, protect lives and property and minimize economic impacts.”

“Together, these flights will help forecasters paint a detailed three-dimensional picture of weather systems over Pacific regions where more accurate information is needed for computer weather forecast models,” said Jack R. Parrish, flight director and meteorologist with NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

The NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter fleet is based out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and is made up of Lockheed WC-130J, Lockheed WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV aircraft.