Hurricane hunters fly research aircraft into “atmospheric rivers”

Monday 29th Feb 2016 by the Weather Club

Photo: Analysing weather data being relayed to the aircraft from a dropsonde 
 U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Kimberly Spusta

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, nicknamed “Hurricane Hunters,” spent two weeks at the end of February flying through "atmospheric rivers" in the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii to the U.S. West Coast in efforts to improve storm predictions. Lt. Col. Jonathan Talbot, a 53rd WRS senior meteorologist, stated that "The missions were an absolute 100 percent success."

For the first time ever, “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft are collecting data from these rivers above the Pacific to attempt to improve forecasts. As much as half of the rain and snow that falls in West Coast states comes from these “atmospheric rivers”, with the amount of precipitation received a key factor in determining whether the state of California is in drought or flood. Flooding, mudslides and damaging winds can all result from these events, with this year’s strong El Niño event providing extra moisture and energy as a consequence of warmer ocean temperatures. 

Two Air Force Reserve WC-130J Super Hercules completed the missions with each flight, covering an 800-mile transect. To collect weather data, a dropsonde is released; as it falls it collects information on air temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure. Data regarding water vapour distribution and winds is also collected, which is especially valuable as this sort data is not available from satellites. This data is then sent in real-time by satellite to the National Center for Environmental Prediction to create a multidimensional view of the rivers.

If you're interested in flying, the Royal Meteorological Society is holding an all-day meeting and training course titled ‘Weather for Private Pilot’s License holders’ on Saturday 16th April, at Imperial College London, South Kensington. Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) is often associated with cloud, and loss of control is often associated with unexpected changes in wind, therefore this meeting will focus on two topics: 1) visibility and cloud and 2) wind and turbulence. Click here to register and find out more. 

Note: This is a joint meeting with the Aviation Meteorology Special Interest Group and GASCo, and is part of the Royal Meteorological Society National Meetings programme. Anyone is welcome to attend the meeting, but prior registration is required.