Yet new hurricane hunters could cost a prohibitive
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the
While not that unusual if a plane is well-maintained, it is a testament to how rugged the WP-3 is, considering it regularly smashes into storms.
"The WP-3 Orion is big, has a lot of power and will fly through hurricanes without fear of crashing," said
Because the two Orions have been subjected to severe turbulence, "we've had a number of incidents over the years," said Cmdr.
Perhaps the most high profile was when one of the turboprops flew into the eyewall of Hurricane Hugo in
"The P-3 is able to fly on two engines, so the crew was able to regroup inside the storm," said Silah, a veteran hurricane hunter pilot. "When you fly into a hurricane, you're flying into a potentially high-risk environment."
After Sandy assaulted the
Part of that money will refurbish the planes over the next three years. It also will fund additional hours of flight time this storm season, NOAA officials said.
"It's an opportunity for us to be very aggressive this year, flying the planes and sampling storms," Marks said.
This will be the last hurricane season until 2017 that the two aircraft will fly together, as each gets revamped.
The WP-3s are equipped with a barrage of weather instruments and sophisticated radar systems that provide real-time data to help the hurricane center better estimate a storm's track and strength.
This season, the two planes will help test new technological tools. They'll work in concert with two small waterborne drones stationed near
"We place that data into models to see if we're better able to improve intensity forecasts," she said.
The two 67-ton WP-3s are generally staffed with 18 to 20 crew members, including pilots and scientists. The planes commonly fly for eight to 10 hours per mission, penetrating the core of storms several times. They also release devices to capture data on wind speeds, pressure and temperature.
Usually they are accompanied by NOAA's high-flying G-4 jet, which flies around the upper fringes of storms to get a better read on steering currents.
A major benefit of installing new
"The additional data we'll get is absolutely critical," he said.
Silah noted the WP-3 is the perfect platform for NOAA's research into tropical systems.
"These are the most comprehensive flying weather stations in the world, and there's nothing better suited for the mission," he said. "Sometimes the old technology is better."
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