weather discussion

Weather Discussion: Hurricane Hunters Turn Into Atmospheric River Hunters

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the "Hurricane Hunters," are spending their winter out west flying off the California coast studying our atmospheric river storms.

Maj. Jeremy DeHart, Aerial Recon Weather Officer, said the crew has been deploying dropsondes — weather sensor kit with a drag chute — out of the aircraft to better analyze real-time data on storms as they approach the West Coast.

With far less ways of gathering data out over the ocean beyond aircraft, a few ships and near shore buoy reports, these flights and their dozens of dropsondes allow weather models to gain a better picture of what's going on inside atmospheric river storms, which are known for their higher than usual precipitable water values that can lead to more intense storms and heavier rain rates per hour.

Data gathering flights like those being done by the 53rd WRS could reduce the "ocean blind spot" of weather data and allow meteorologists to get more accurate data that in turn should lead to more accurate weather models when dealing with atmospheric river type storms.

The team's data is also being analyzed by the CW Scripps Center of Western Weather and Water Extremes to see how atmospheric river storms develop as they near the coast.

More recent studies have hinted that current and future atmospheric river storms may gain more energy/intensity due to increased ocean heat content — warmer sea surface temperatures — and a warmer overall atmosphere, which has the capacity to hold more moisture.

The team plans on continuing their atmospheric river research flights through March.

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