LAST Wednesday, a team of hurricane specialists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and hurricane hunters from the United States Air Force visited the island to meet with the local meteorological office to discuss preparations for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.
The main attraction of the team’s visit was the viewing of aircraft — the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron’s Lockheed WC-130 Hercules.
There was an overwhelming response to this invitation as adults and schoolchildren alike, converged on the tarmac to view the 37-year-old plane.
The WC-130 Hercules is a high-wing, medium range aircraft flown by the Air Force Reserve for weather reconnaissance missions. The craft is capable of staying aloft nearly 18 hours during missions. An average weather reconnaissance mission might last 11 hours and cover almost 5,600 kilometres while the crew collects and reports weather data by the minute.
The weather equipment aboard the aircraft provides a high-density, high-accuracy horizontal atmospheric sensing capability.
Sensors installed on the aircraft measure outside temperature, humidity, absolute altitude of the aircraft, pressure altitude, wind speed and direction once per second. This information, along with an evaluation of other meteorological conditions, turbulence, icing, radar returns and visibility, is encoded by the on-board meteorologist and transmitted by satellite to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida.
The WC-130 provides vital tropical cyclone forecasting information. It penetrates tropical cyclones and hurricanes at altitudes ranging from 150 to 3,000 metres above the ocean surface depending upon the intensity of the storm.
The aircraft’s most important function is to collect high-density, high accuracy weather date from within the storm’s environment. This includes penetration of the centre (eye) of the storm.
Slicing through the eyewall of a hurricane, buffeted by howling winds, blinding rain, hail and violent updrafts and downdrafts before entering the relative calm of the storm’s eye, NOAA’s WC-130 aircraft probe every wind and pressure change, repeating the grueling experiencing again and again during the course of a 10-hour mission.
This vital information is instantly relayed by satellite to the National Hurricane Centre to aid in the accurate forecasting of hurricane movement and intensity.
“It’s a sturdy aircraft which gives a lot of real-time data,” said crew member,” James Dignan.
The Hurricane Centre in Miami depends on Jamaica for information on surface trough and upper air observation that are conducted here. However, the island is also dependent on the hurricane centre in Miami which has a job of forecasting for the island as well as other areas of North America.