A close-up look at NOAA's storm-chasing jet - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

A close-up look at NOAA's storm-chasing jet

By Oscar Valenzuela - bio | email 

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The mission to cover 3200 miles of airspace gather crucial data for weather predicting and do it all in just 8 hours. In order to do this you need the right organization, a flight crew with science backgrounds and one high flying fast plane.

This is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's twin-engine jet. Nicknamed Gonzo because of it's odd beak-like nose-cone. NOAA acquired the gulfstream four in 1996 and had it outfitted with high tech instrumentation.

Lt. Commanders' Nick Toth and Kristie Twining are flying this year's winter storm project.

"Here we are out in the middle of the Pacific ocean, just like that and pick up weather information," NOAA's Lt. Commander Nick Toth said.

First, the plane drops GPS data collectors into the atmosphere feeding the information directly to NOAA's weather center in the east coast. But unlike the P3's or C130 hurricane hunters, this plane traditionally used as a corporate jet gives scientists a significant advantage over the slower, bigger propeller planes.

"Any other aircraft won't feed the models with as much data as we can get with this aircraft," NOAA's Lt. Commander Kristine Twining said.

The G4's high altitude capabilities give the data gathering device a larger vertical swath in which to collect information as it falls back to earth. We are well into the earths stratosphere at an altitude of nearly 45 thousand feet. The flight crew consists of a flight operations commander, the dropsonde deployment crew and engineers responsible for tracking and transmitting the data, 

"We get a very good profile of the atmosphere all the way from our flight level to when it hits the water," NOAA meteorologist Jessica Williams said.

On this mission over the North Pacific the plane was able to fly above the troposhere giving weather modellers the chance to predict what coming storms, if any, may affect millions of people coast to coast across the mainland something only this government owned jet has the ability to do.

"Seeing the big picture of what we do, we're not just out here flying an aircraft, we're out here as part of a bigger picture, and I like to be part of that," Twining said.

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