Into the Eye: A Preview of the 2010 Hurricane Season

Posted by Allyson Rae  -  email


MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Imagine being thousands of feet in the air, hundreds of miles from land, and rocketing through a giant storm. Some call it crazy, others call it a day's work. Specifically, we're talking about the hurricane hunters.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan ripped through Central Alabama causing damage and leaving some stranded. Others saw their livelihood destroyed, and some even lost their lives.

It's times like these were Alabamians raise awareness and evacuations are ordered to save lives based on the current forecast, a forecast that is 30% more accurate because of over 100 unsung heroes in the Air force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters.

MSgt. Justin James says, "There is nothing routine about our job."

On the WC-I30J, there is a five person crew, at least 12 weather sensors (dropsondes), and limited amenities. The flight can be as long as 12 to 14 hours.

Pilot Maj. Ivan DeRoche says, "You get nervous from time to time, but I've experienced it enough that it doesn't really scare you anymore."

The main mission is dropping the sensor (dropsondes) into the storm. The sondes give us an idea of the storms environment through temperatures, dew point, wind speed, pressure, etc.

The aircraft travels through the eye wall, the most turbulent area of the storm, in order to get to the eye of the storm. The crew admits the sights can be humbling.

"During the day time when you pop out in a well developed eye its just like this it's clear and a million. The eye wall is 10 to 15 miles from the airplane and you'll here us reference things like the stadium effect, and it will look like inside of a football stadium kind of like a bowl. You can be totally surrounded by the stadium effect of the clouds from the surface of the water up to maybe 40,000 feet," remarks, Maj. DeRoche.

Capt. Christopher Dyke adds, "You're kind of in awe at it when you see it and it's a well developed one, but at the same time your kind of hurrying to try and get the information out and everything is going on its kind of a pretty busy moment too."

The information from the sensor is returned within four minutes.

MSgt. James, the Loadmaster, gets the first look at the data.  "Once I see the data looks correct to me I'll send it to the [Weather Officer], who sends it to the Hurricane Center in Miami."

Within 15 minutes of dropping the sonde, the National Hurricane Center has the data needed to narrow the 'cone of uncertainty'. This gives officials a better idea of where evacuations are needed.

MSgt. James comments on the importance of being prepared, "Always be prepared, and if the officials in town say we need to move, listen to them go ahead and start making that move. It's better to do it and get a head start on it and listen then wait until the last second and get yourself in trouble."

The name of the storm might change, but the hunt for hurricane data never ends. Some might call them fearless, valiant, or maybe even crazy, but what they find inside hurricanes could save your life.

Copyright 2010 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Rich Thomas  -  email


MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The stage is set. And, the signs are becoming clearer that we could be in for a very active hurricane season, perhaps the most active since the 2005 season.  That's the season that produced Katrina, and 14 other hurricanes, 7 of which were major hurricanes.

Last year was a well below average year in the tropics.  There were only 9 named storms and only three of those became hurricanes.  Much of the activity  stayed well off the coastline out in the  Atlantic.

The main culprit for the  quiet hurricane season was a rather strong El Nino, which promotes strong vertical wind shear.  Wind shear stifles hurricane development.

This year will be different.  The El Nino which was so strong last summer and through the winter is now starting to fade.  Forecasters are projecting that El Nino is not only weakening, but may be gone all together by mid-summer. That means much lighter than normal trades winds in the tropical Atlantic from July through September, perfect for the formation of hurricanes.

Plus..Sea temperatures are trending warmer than last year.  Much warmer, in fact.  Water temperatures in the main hurricane development region are even warmer than the record years of 1969 and 2005.

These factors and more lead forecasters at Colorado State University to update their forecast calling for a much more active hurricane season.  The forecast calls for 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, category 3 or higher.  The forecast also includes an increased threat to the coastline this year.  The Colorado State Forecast calls for a 45% chance of a major hurricane hitting the eastern US coastline, and 44% chance  along the Gulf coast.  That threat is about 30% higher than in an average hurricane season.   TOMORROW, AT A NEWS CONFERENCE IN WASHINGTON, NOAA WILL ISSUE THEIR FORECAST FOR THE SEASON.

But has the public become complacent again since there has been no  major impact to Florida or the northern Gulf coast in 5 years… It's a problem, that worries NHC director Bill Read.

"The scope of memory of learning a lesson and learning it well is five years, after an event.  Well, we've been five years now here in Florida since the last major hurricane threat to the area, and I would almost bet the ranch that most people have softened their view of what a hurricane can do to them, just because of that.  And, so the message is fight that urge to say oh it happened a long time ago, and it won't happen again to me, and be prepared as if  this year you're going to get hit"

HURRICANE SEASON BEGINS ON JUNE 11st and continues until November 30TH.

Copyright 2010 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.