HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During last year’s busy hurricane season in the Central Pacific, NOAA aircraft were in the skies near Hawaii, monitoring tropical cyclones that came too close for comfort.
One of them was the agency’s Gulfstream IV aircraft, nicknamed “Gonzo” for its extended nose. But that nose holds instruments that help meteorologists, both aboard the aircraft and on the ground.
“It actually flies around the hurricanes and it gives us an idea of what the winds and atmosphere are doing, and that helps our numerical weather models make accurate predictions,” said Ray Tanabe, the Pacific Region director for the National Weather Service.
The crew aboard the aircraft use dropsondes, expendable weather reconnaissance devices that are released from the aircraft. Some 30 to 35 dropsondes are released during a typical mission. Each dropsonde records atmospheric data four times a second as it falls more than 40,000 feet toward the ocean. The data is then used to sharpen the forecasts, especially when it comes to determining where a hurricane is headed.
“That’s a big goal of ours, to do a better job when it comes to the track forecast. And we’ve seen incredible improvements over the last ten years,” said Paul Flaherty, one of NOAA’s flight directors.
The plane goes where it is needed when a strong tropical cyclone threatens land. It came to Hawaii last year when hurricanes Hector and Lane were approaching the islands.
“I was out here a couple times for both of those storms as well, and they’re just as important as any storms that are affecting the East Coast or the Gulf of Mexico on the continental U.S., and so we want to be here if we can help,” said Flaherty.
The last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Iniki, which struck Kauai in 1992. NOAA wants to make sure people are ready for the next one.
“Most people nowadays don’t remember Iniki too well. They remember Lane, which came close and panicked a lot of people, but then complacency may set in,” said CMDR Chris Sloan, who is set to become commander of NOAA’s aircraft fleet later this year. “We’re out here trying to promote the awareness message, to tell people exactly what to do, how to do it, how to prepare.”
Hurricane season in the Central Pacific runs through November 30.