ORLANDO, Fla. — There are currently two types of hurricane hunters: The Air Force big WC-130 planes that fly through the storm at lower levels, at about 10,000 feet, and the flights that are done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists and pilots, which usually take place at higher altitudes. Hurricane hunter planes are also equipped with radar and other instruments to measure different elements of a storm.
These flights are done as soon as the storm threatens the land. Scientists aboard the flight drop radiosondes that measure temperature, humidity, winds, and pressure. These data are critical, as they are put straight into weather forecast models to have better initiation of models, which likely leads to a much better forecast. The better the data, the better the forecast, the more money saved in mitigation and in saving lives.
The NOAA has also used drones in the past. But as technology advances, it is coming up with new types of drones that could greatly improve the forecast. Specifically, scientists want to measure data of the lowest levels of a storm. These are tough to get because a plane cannot fly this low, especially where the winds could be extremely strong. This is where drones come in handy.
Drones not only explore and collect data from lower levels, at about 3,000 feet, but they can also do this for several hours longer, much longer than a hurricane hunter plane and much, much longer than a radiosonde.
The point of using these battery-powered drones is for scientists to learn more about an area that has not been explored in storms, enhance the data to improve decision-making and improve intensity forecasts. It is important to point out that these drones could improve forecast track models, and these types of data collection have a better chance to improve the intensity forecast.
There are three types of drones, ranging from 2.5 to 27 pounds. They will be experimenting in the coming seasons and could become operational in a few years.
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