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Hurricane Hunter Airplanes Critical To A Forecasts’ Accuracy

By Joe Joyce, WBZ-TV Meteorologist

BOSTON (CBS) – In the the beginning of the summer, NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft visited Cape Cod in an effort raise awareness to the threat of hurricanes.

Today, these same planes are in the sky flying 3-4 times a day right into the heart of Category 3 Irene, a storm which threatens the entire eastern seaboard.

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“I’ve been doing this almost 25 years and to be at the focal point in getting the data to the forecasters in real time for them to make their forecasts is pretty cool,” said Hurricane Hunter Flight Director Barry Damaino.

WBZ-TV Meteorologist Joe Joyce reports.

These high flying meteorological stations perform numerous missions punching into the center of the strongest storms on the planet and come out with life saving data which helps to make forecasting the track 15% more accurate.

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Bill Reed of the National Hurricane Center says these missions are critical for accurate forecasts of land-falling hurricanes.

“It is very important to have the correct initial conditions of the storm that you load the computer models with if you expect to get a good forecast out the other end,” said Reed.

An instrument known as a “Dropsonde” is one of the main reasons why meteorologists risk their lives flying into these dangerous storms. This instrument is dropped from the belly of the aircraft into the eye-wall of the hurricane. It measures the pressure, humidity and wind as it moves down to the surface of the ocean.

The plane will will fly an x pattern through out the storm, flying through the eye several times throughout a six-hour mission into the storm. Each time they fly through the eye, they will be dropping a dropsonde right into the eye wall. This provides forecasters on the ground a vertical slice of the atmosphere.

“This is giving us a snapshot of the hurricane we would not otherwise get by simply looking at satellites. The satellite is like looking at a top of a person. This plane goes in and probes the inside.” said Jaime Rhome, storm surge specialist of the National Hurricane Center.

It has been 20 years since Hurricane bob hit Cape Cod, close to 60 years since our last major hurricane. These planes came to Otis Air force base to remind us to that now is the time to prepare for our next storm.


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