Hurricane hunters prepare for 2023 with new and trusted technology

Data from the planes are instrumental in hurricane forecasting
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 2:57 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Long before they are a threat to our coast, tropical storms and hurricanes are monitored by the hurricane hunters. As we head into another hurricane season, these fortified planes are gassed up and ready to go.

“As pilots with the hurricane hunters, we’ll fly into the hurricanes. We’ll drop down to about ten thousand feet, fly right into the eyewall,” said Major Dwight Manganaro, a pilot with the United States Air Force Reserve.

These planes can withstand some of the strongest winds on the planet, all while collecting important data.

They fly in what is called an alpha pattern. They zig-zag through the eye wall multiple times and release dropsondes. These are instruments that fall to the surface at over 2,000 feet per minute. They measure wind speed, direction, air pressure, temperature and humidity. That data is then sent back to the National Hurricane Center for forecast updates.

“We’re able to have an immediate effect. Immediately update the models, immediately give that info to the NHC so they can disseminate it to everyone” says Major Manganaro.


Under the wind of the plane is the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer. Affectionately called “SMURF,” this instrument can read the wind speed at the surface of the ocean.

All of the data collected from the hurricane hunters will be used for a new storm surge model. The new model will have advancements that will account for friction from land and how that impacts how far the water will move inland.

“We start to highlight areas that will have three feet or greater of inundation. So I’m six feet tall, three feet would be up to my waste. That is water you are not gonna want to be in your home. The storm surge watches and warnings are really important products. They are really the loudest alarm we can sound in terms of one of the biggest life-threatening hazards,” said Michael Brennan, the National Hurricane Center Director.

Another improvement this season, the hurricane hunters will be equipped with broadband to improve communication to the hurricane center.