RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Hurricane researchers are flying into storms to potentially improve the accuracy hurricane forecasts.
“Our hurricane hunting, we’re sort of the first line of defense on hurricane landfalls,” explains Jonathan Zawislak, a hurricane scientist with the University of Miami and NOAA.
But before the hurricane makes landfall, it starts as a tropical wave, getting energy from the warm waters of the ocean. As it develops, hurricane hunters are flying around and into the storm to learn more about it, and then take it one step farther.
“We are hurricane hunters, but that’s only one piece of a larger effort that we do at NOAA in order to improve hurricane forecasts,” he says.
Zawislak says flying into tropical storms and hurricanes provide vital information to the National Hurricane Center, but it’s more than just passing along data, it’s about ultimately improving forecasts to keep you safe.
“We have to take observations, improve models, develop new models and learn how to use the observations within those models in order to ultimately improve hurricane forecasts,” he explains.
So how is data collected?
The aircraft has instruments to measure things like wind speed and pressure, and they also drop things called sondes that relay information back to the researchers.
Now they’re also deploying drones they can pilot into the worst part of the storm near the water’s surface, which is too low and dangerous for them to fly through.
Even though hurricane hunters have been flying into storms and collecting valuable data for nearly 70 years, every season and every storm is different, and if we want forecasts to keep getting better, they’ll keep flying.
“You can never collect enough data, because we learn something new every time, and we’re always filled with questions,” Zawislak says. “There’s plenty of questions that still need answers, so the need of hurricane flying will always be there.”
The hurricane researchers are also flying out of the Cabo Verde islands off the coast of Africa. This is where many tropical systems begin, and it will give them the chance to collect data earlier than they ever have before.