This article is from the Storms FAQ, by Chris Landsea firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributed by Neal Dorst.)
In the Atlantic basin (Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea)
hurricane reconnaissance is carried out by two government agencies, the
U.S. Air Force Reserves' 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and NOAA's
Aircraft Operations Center. The U.S. Navy stopped flying hurricanes in
The 53rd WRS is based at Keesler AFB in Mississippi and maintains
a fleet of ten WC-130 planes. These cargo airframes have been modified to
carry weather instruments to measure wind, pressure, temperature and dew
point as well as drop instrumented sondes and make other observations.
AOC is presently based at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida and among
its fleet of planes has two P-3 Orions, originally made as Navy sub hunters,
but modified to include three radars as well as a suite of meteorological
instruments and dropsonde capability. Starting in 1996 AOC has added to
its fleet a Gulfstream IV jet that will be able to make hurricane
observations from much higher altitudes (up to 45,000 feet). It has a
suite of instruments similar to those on the P-3s.
The USAF planes are the workhorses of the hurricane hunting effort.
They are often deployed to a forward base, such as Antigua, and carry out
most of the reconnaissance of developing waves and depressions. Their
mission in these situations is to look for signs of a closed circulation
and any strengthening or organizing that the storm might be showing.
This information is relayed by radio to the National Hurricane Center for
the hurricane specialists to evaluate.
The NOAA planes are more highly instrumented and are generally
reserved for when developed hurricanes are threatening landfall, especially
landfall on U.S. territory. They are also used to conduct scientific
research on storms.
The planes carry between six to fifteen people, both the flight
crew and the meteorologists. Flight crews consist of a pilot, co-pilot,
flight engineer, navigator, and electrical technicians. The weather
crew might consist of a flight meteorologist, lead project scientist,
cloud physicist, radar specialist, and dropsonde operators.
The primary purpose of reconnaissance is to track the center
of circulation, these are the co-ordinates that the National Hurricane
Center issues, and to measure the maximum winds. But the crews are
also evaluating the storm's size, structure, and development and this
information is also relayed to NHC via radio and satellite link. Most of
this data, which is critical in determining the hurricane's threat, cannot
be obtained from satellite.