Hurricane Hunters, Naval Academy Team Up for Research

Story Number: NNS140812-01Release Date: 8/12/2014 7:08:00 AM
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By Master Sgt. Brian Lamar, 403rd Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (NNS) -- A Navy research contingent of the Naval Academy's Training and Research in Oceanic and Atmospheric Processes in Tropical Cyclones, or TROPIC, internship program has teamed up with the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters to gather storm data during a deployment to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 5 - 10.

The Hurricane Hunters and Navy researchers were deployed to gather data from Hurricanes Iselle and Julio, back-to-back hurricanes following the same path.

"This deployment provides us with a unique opportunity," said Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Elizabeth Sanabia, a researcher and associate chair with the Naval Academy's Department of Oceanography. "We haven't had a (Category 3) hurricane in the Atlantic for quite some time. Also, because Julio is following closely behind Iselle, we can collect data that will tell us how these storms interact."

While the Hurricane Hunters were busy with their normal mission of gathering the real-time storm data for the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center, the Naval researchers were gathering data for a study to determine how the relationship between the ocean and a hurricane works. The researchers use specialized buoys, Airborne/Air Expendable Bathythermograph, or AXBT, that were dropped out of a modified launch tube in the back of the WC-130J. The buoys send data by a radio signal from the ocean surface while diving down 800 meters under the water giving Naval personnel a column of data to examine.

"This mission was based on field research programs in 2008 and 2010 where it was shown that if you have information about the ocean, some models can make better forecasts," said Sanabia. "We hope to capitalize on those improvements and forecast accuracy by transitioning this capability from research to operation."

According to Sanabia, the research will help meteorologists develop an understanding of the relationship between salinity and temperature of the ocean and storm strength.

"Most of the forecast models today just draw data from the atmosphere itself, but since hurricanes draw heat from the ocean, newer models called "coupled models" look at both the ocean and the atmosphere and need the information from the ocean to be accurate," she said.

Naval personnel set up and dropped AXBT buoys during each reconnaissance flight into Iselle and Julio, which radio back information about the ocean's temperature, said Maj. Jon Brady, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer.

"The partnership between the Navy researchers and our squadron is great because it benefits the forecasts with very little extra costs," said Brady. "We are already flying these missions, while they are using the back half of our aircraft to conduct this research.

"The knowledge gained is also helpful. They are helping with future forecasts," he added. "They are able to prove how much ocean cooling occurs as [storms] go by. The Navy's AXBT buoys provide key ocean temperature measurements which are crucial to intensity forecasting for hurricanes. Warmer ocean temperatures increase storm strength, while colder temperatures will weaken them. Knowing the actual water temperatures ahead of an approaching storm is a very important aspect of intensity forecasting."

The partnership between the Naval Academy TROPIC research team and the Hurricane Hunters is in its fourth year and is an ongoing partnership to help the National Hurricane Center increase the accuracy of hurricane forecasts by incorporating ocean data from beneath tropical systems into air-ocean coupled prediction models. These models use data from the air and the ocean to obtain ocean temperature data to use in forecasts.

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