Hurricane Hunters Inform Forecasts as Storm Approaches Hawaii

Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters’ missions into Hurricane Lane were cancelled yesterday so they could move out of the storm’s path as it approached Hawaii.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, based out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, began flying into Hurricane Lane out of the Kalaeloa Airport on Aug. 20 to collect weather data for the Central Pacific Hurricane Center to assist with their forecasts.

When the airmen began flying into Hurricane Lane, it was a Category 4 storm that was predicted to weaken to a Category 3, with the possibility of the storm changing course and moving south of the islands.

Using information provided by the Hurricane Hunters, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center adjusted its forecast, finding that the intensity had increased and the path moved to a northern route with a direct landfall to Hawaii possible later in the week.

The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are data-sparse environments, due to the lack of radar and weather balloons in those areas, and satellite data can be incomplete, officials said. The data the Hurricane Hunters provide assists forecast accuracy, as the 53rd WRS flies into the storm and directly measures the surface winds and pressure. The data assists with forecast movement and intensity models.

Gathering Data

The Hurricane Hunters fly the storms to determine the center of the storm by using dropsondes and the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer, which is used to measure wind speeds on the water surface. They then send the data collected to the National Hurricane Center to assist forecasters in projecting the paths of the storms.

While flying the storm the evening of Aug. 20, Air Force Maj. Kimberly Spusta, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer, said the wind speeds had increased between the first pass through the eye of the storm to the second pass. Hurricane Lane strengthened to a Category 5 storm the evening of Aug. 21 during a final mission by the Hurricane Hunters.

This is the second time this year the 53rd WRS has deployed to Hawaii. They flew missions into Hurricane Hector in early August.