Going through the eyewall of a hurricane, battered by howling winds, heavy rain, and violent updrafts and downdrafts before entering the relative calm of the storm’s eye, NOAA’s two Lockheed WP-3D Orion four-engine turboprop aircraft, affectionately nicknamed “Kermit” (N42RF) and “Miss Piggy” (N43RF), examine every wind and pressure change, and will repeat the grueling experience again and again during the course of an 8-10 hour mission. [source]
In the hair-raising video embedded below, we see the brave NOAA Hurricane Hunters flying through the eye of Irma.
— NOAAHurricaneHunters (@NOAA_HurrHunter) September 5, 2017
Specially equipped NOAA aircraft play an integral role in hurricane forecasting. Data collected during hurricanes by these high-flying meteorological stations help forecasters make accurate predictions during a hurricane and help hurricane researchers achieve a better understanding of storm processes, improving their forecast models. [source]
Scientists aboard the aircraft deploy Global Positioning System (GPS) dropwindsondes as the P-3 flies through the hurricane. These instruments continuously transmit measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed as they fall toward the sea, providing a detailed look at the structure of the storm and its intensity. The P-3s’ tail Dopper radar and lower fuselage radar systems, meanwhile, scan the storm vertically and horizontally, giving scientists and forecasters a real-time look at the storm. The P-3s can also deploy probes called bathythermographs that measure the temperature of the sea. [source]
Storm surge forecasts have benefited from the addition of NOAA-developed Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometers (SFMRs) to NOAA’s P-3s. SFMRs measure over-ocean wind speed and rain rate in hurricanes and tropical storms, key indicators of potentially deadly storm surges. Surge is a major cause of hurricane-related deaths. [source]
In addition to conducting research to help scientists better understand hurricanes and other kinds of tropical cyclones, NOAA’s P-3s participate in storm reconnaissance missions when tasked to do so by the NOAA National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center. The purpose of these missions is primarily to locate the center of the storm and measure central pressure and surface winds around the eye. (The U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron also supports this mission with their WC-130J aircraft.) Information from both research and reconnaissance flights directly contribute to the safety of people living along and visiting the vulnerable Atlantic and Gulf coasts. [source]