Although hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1, the Air Force Reserve Command’s Hurricane Hunters departed on their first storm tasking of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to investigate an area for possible development into a tropical depression or storm near the Bahamas. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, the only Department of Defense organization that flies weather reconnaissance, is expected to fly into Invest 90L throughout the weekend to provide weather data by satellite communication to the National Hurricane Center in Miami to improve their computer models that forecast movement and intensity.
According to the NHC, there is a 70% chance that this area of interest could form into Tropical Storm Arthur over the weekend. This would be the sixth consecutive year with a named storm in May. The Hurricane Hunters are conducting an investigation mission. A low-level invest mission is flown at 500 to 1,500 feet to determine if there is a closed circulation. If there is a closed circulation, they begin flying fix missions into the system, Wilmot said.
Once a system becomes a tropical storm or hurricane, the Hurricane Hunters begin flying at higher altitudes, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet depending on the severity of the storm. Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times per mission to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During each pass through the center, they release dropsondes, which collect pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind speeds on its descent to the ocean surface.
During the invest and storm flights, the aircrews transmit weather data collected from the dropsondes and aircraft sensors via satellite communication every 10 minutes to the NHC to assist them with their forecasts and storm warnings. Forecasters have projected this hurricane season to be more active than usual. However, whether it’s a busy or slow season, it only takes one devastating storm to make it a bad year for a community, so it’s important to be prepared.