Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:54 PM GMT on November 21, 2007

Share this Blog
8
+

Everyone knows that flying into hurricanes is dangerous work. The NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown a number of dangerous flights over the years, most recently in Hurricane Felix on September 2 this year. NOAA P-3 aircraft N42RF (affectionately called Kermit), penetrated a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Felix as it approached Category 5 intensity. The aircraft hit four G's of acceleration in both the up and down directions in Felix's eyewall. Regulations require a flight to be aborted at that level of turbulence, and Kermit returned to base. A detailed inspection of the aircraft the next day revealed no damage, and Kermit returned to service for the remainder of hurricane season.


Figure 1. A NOAA P-3 refuels in Cold Bay, Alaska (left) on its way to the Aleutian Islands to fly a mission in the 1987 Alaska Storms Program. Right: The two NOAA P-3's get de-iced at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, as they prepare for a mission into a 'Noreaster during the Experiment on Rapidly Intensifying Cyclones over the Atlantic (ERICA) in 1989. Both photos taken by yours truly.

What is less appreciated is that these aircraft fly research missions into dangerous weather conditions year-round and world-wide, and some of the most dangerous flights have occurred far from the tropics. Earlier this year, Kermit experienced perhaps the most dangerous flight of its 31-year career. On February 9, the aircraft flew into an intense winter storm 500 miles east of Newfoundland. The mission was part of the Ocean Winds project, a study designed to test the accuracy of QuikSCAT satellite wind estimates in regions of high wind and heavy rain. Flying at 3,000 feet, the aircraft sampled the surface winds with its SFMR (Step Frequency Microwave Radiometer) and dropsondes. The flights were timed to coincide with an overhead pass of the QuikSCAT satellite, which also measured winds at the ocean surface. It was a bit of a rough ride, since the storm packed winds of 100-110 mph at flight level. Sea spray kicked up by the powerful winds reached all the way to flight level, coating the windshield with a thick white coating of salt. The windshield washer failed, leaving the windshield partially opaque. It was an unusually dry winter storm, and the rain showers needed to rinse the windshield clean were difficult to find.


Figure 2. QuikSCAT wind profile of the ocean surface at 21:22 GMT February 9, 2007, just before Kermit headed back to St. John's, Newfoundland.

After a successful 4-hour flight, the aircraft dropped its final dropsonde, and turned north to complete its final sampling run. Suddenly, crew members observed flames coming from the #3 engine, accompanied by an audible popping sound. "Fire on #3, flames, flames, flames!" came the cry over the on-board intercom system. The pilots and flight engineers immediately began an emergency shut down of the #3 engine. As they worked to shut down the engine, the ominous call, "Fire on #4!" came over the intercom. The pilot immediately began an emergency shut down of the #4 engine. With both engines on the right wing now shut down, the pilot cautiously ramped up power on the two engines on the left wing, turned the aircraft towards home base in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and attempted to climb. However, the aircraft was not able to climb on just two engines, and the pilot was forced to begin a gradual descent to 2600 feet. The pilot notified the crew to review their ditching placards, and word was send to air traffic control informing them of the emergency. Three tense minutes passed, as the crew attempted to figure out what had caused the multiple engine failures. Speculation centered on the unusually heavy accumulation of salt on the aircraft--but excessive salt had never been implicated in engine failures before. Then, the words they all dreaded, "Fire on #1!" burst out over the intercom. The flight engineer immediately pulled the emergency shutdown handle for the #1 engine, and Kermit began a 700 foot per minute descent towards the turbulent sea below.

The crew donned survival suits as the pilot issued a May-day distress call and prepared to ditch the aircraft. Beneath them, hurricane force winds blew over the night-shrouded North Atlantic waters. With waves easily reaching 20 feet, water temperatures near freezing, and 500 miles out at sea at night, prospects for survival were dim. Four minutes remained to restart one of the flamed-out engines, and the pilot called for an immediate restart of the #1 engine. As the flight engineer worked to comply, Kermit passed through a brief rain shower that washed considerable salt from the aircraft. The attempt to restart the #1 engine succeeded, and Kermit pulled out of its descent just 800 feet above the waves--one minute from impact.

The crew now worked to restart the failed #3 and #4 engines, while the plane slowly climbed away from the ocean surface. As they headed towards Newfoundland, the Canadian Air Force launched a search and rescue C-130 aircraft from Nova Scotia to intercept Kermit. Crews on the Hibernia and Terra Nova oil rigs located east of Newfoundland were alerted of the emergency, and stood by to help if necessary. Kermit's navigator continuously plotted vectors to the oil rigs at they flew home, in case a ditch near one of the rigs became necessary.

As they continued westward, the crew successfully restarted both the #3 and #4 engines, but at reduced power. Kermit climbed to a more comfortable altitude of 14,000 feet and made it uneventfully back to St. Johns. Fortunately, the engines were undamaged and perfectly operational after the salt was washed out, and the data collected during the mission was saved. According to the detailed NOAA Mishap Investigation Report posted on Chris Mooney's excellent blog, "Post flight inspection of engines revealed significant white build up on intakes, first stage compressors, and CIP probes of all four engines. Subjectively, the #2 engine appeared to be the worst coated of all engines. Aircraft fuselage and windows were also heavily coated." Salt build-up on the engines was determined to be the cause of the incident. The unusually dry nature of the storm prevented the salt from being washed off, and was probably part of the reason the engines failed on this flight, and not on previous flights.

I asked Dr. Jim McFadden, project manager of the Ocean Winds project, what happened. He was on the flight, and responded:

This event stumped everyone including the experts who spend a life-time studying sea salt and aerosols in the marine boundary layer. Six previous flights in similar conditions had resulted in nothing like this. But this one was different. It was flown over an ocean warmed by the Gulf Stream in a dry slot of cold Canadian air. Somehow that combination was the key to what could have been a disastrous flight. Fortunately, quick thinking and the flawless action of the crew brought about by excellent training got us home safely.

Last week in Washington D.C., the crew of Kermit was honored with the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal for successfully bringing home the aircraft. The crew members from NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center who were on the flight were:

LCDR Mark Nelson
LCDR Carl Newman
Joseph Klippel
LCDR Peter Siegel
LCDR Joseph Bishop
Tom Shepherd
James Barr
Terry Lynch
William Olney
James McFadden

QuikSCAT scientists Paul Chang and Rob Contreras were also present on the flight.

Separate Department of Commerce Gold and Silver Medals were also awarded last week for scientists involved in leading NOAA's operational use of NASA's QuikSCAT satellite to produce more accurate forecasts and warnings of marine and coastal weather:

Paul Chang
Hugh Cobb III (NWS)
Roger Edson (NWS)
James Franklin (NHC)
Richard Knabb (NHC)
Eugene Legg
Kevin Schrab (NWS)
Joseph Sienkiewicz (NWS)

A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one operating unit and which reflect favorably on the Department. Congratulations to all the awardees, and thanks for all that you do!

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 305 - 255

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16Blog Index

302. Patrap
5:41 PM CST on November 25, 2007
LSU ESL page Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
301. Patrap
5:40 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Oct 24th,05 I was Busy Gutting Homes where the water was after Katrina.

I didnt start Blogging till June 06.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
300. Patrap
5:40 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Here JFV...you can read the archived Wilma blog. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
299. flaboyinga
6:38 PM EST on November 25, 2007
JFV, your good is as guess mine? Pat do you remember how much traffic was on the blog during that period of time?
298. Weather456
7:39 PM AST on November 25, 2007
Its really coming down

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
297. flaboyinga
6:36 PM EST on November 25, 2007
I'm happy to hear that. I think you have paid some serious dues.
295. Patrap
5:35 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Soon to be moving.Have 5 nice Places we deciding on.Hopefully.Next 2 weeks.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
294. flaboyinga
6:32 PM EST on November 25, 2007
I saw the radar. That's why I said duck. Are you gonna get out of the FEMA sardine can and into a building in the near future?
293. Patrap
5:32 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Doing well thank you. Went easy on the Turkey and all. Nasty storms Se of me tonight. Severe stuff.
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
292. flaboyinga
6:26 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Pat, Don't forget to duck. How are you feeling this week. I hope you're doing better.
291. Patrap
5:18 PM CST on November 25, 2007
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
509 PM CST SUN NOV 25 2007



THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NEW ORLEANS HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
PLAQUEMINES PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...

* UNTIL 600 PM CST

* AT 504 PM CST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS
OF 60 MPH. THIS STORM WAS LOCATED 25 MILES SOUTHWEST OF EMPIRE...
OR ABOUT 29 MILES SOUTH OF PORT SULPHUR...AND MOVING NORTHEAST AT
50 MPH.

* THE SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WILL BE NEAR...
BURAS BY 535 PM CST...
BOOTHVILLE...BOOTHVILLE ASOS AND VENICE BY 540 PM CST...

THIS IS A DANGEROUS STORM. IF YOU ARE IN ITS PATH...PREPARE
IMMEDIATELY FOR DAMAGING WINDS...DESTRUCTIVE HAIL...AND DEADLY CLOUD
TO GROUND LIGHTNING. PEOPLE OUTSIDE SHOULD MOVE TO A SHELTER...
PREFERABLY INSIDE A STRONG BUILDING BUT AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

NEXRAD Radar
New Orleans Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link

Winds to 80knots in those Bigger Cells.

New Orleans Velocity Azimuth Display Wind Profile Range 124 NMI

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
290. Weather456
6:54 PM AST on November 25, 2007
:-)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
289. V26R
10:51 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Okay gotcha on that

Gotta surrender the computer to my son for homework now
Talk to you later
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
288. Weather456
6:48 PM AST on November 25, 2007
285. V26R 6:45 PM AST on November 25, 2007 Hide this comment.
okay one more question
whats the difference in colors? Seeing the
area down in La in blue, whats the difference with the LP with Deep Red up over Wyoming with H values above 100???
Or am I reading somethings wrong?


One is high values of helicity in the atmosphere (blue) and the other is low or non-existent helicity in the atmosphere (deep red).
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
287. V26R
10:51 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Okay Thanks 456
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
286. Weather456
6:45 PM AST on November 25, 2007
281. V26R 6:39 PM AST on November 25, 2007

I see. Also there other factors involve too.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
285. V26R
10:43 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
okay one more question
whats the difference in colors? Seeing the
area down in La in blue, whats the difference with the LP with Deep Red up over Wyoming with H values above 100???
Or am I reading somethings wrong?
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
284. Weather456
6:42 PM AST on November 25, 2007
V26R,


yeah......higher the helicity the higher the tornado potential. Helicity favors the development of mid-level cyclones i.e. mesocyclones.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
283. Weather456
6:37 PM AST on November 25, 2007
extreme helic values are 600...u only need 150 to for tornado formation. Current values are as high as 571...ouch!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
282. V26R
10:40 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
educate me 456
Is the area of most concern the
baby blue area in NW LA???
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
281. V26R
10:36 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Doesn't look as bad as it was a few hours ago 456
Still they're under the gun!

MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 2165
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0334 PM CST SUN NOV 25 2007

AREAS AFFECTED...SERN LA

CONCERNING...TORNADO WATCH 737...

VALID 252134Z - 252300Z

THE SEVERE WEATHER THREAT FOR TORNADO WATCH 737 CONTINUES.

THREAT FOR ISOLATED STRONG TO DAMAGING WIND AND A TORNADO OR TWO
WILL CONTINUE THROUGH 23Z OVER SERN LA. STORMS HAVE DEVELOPED NEWD
INTO SWRN MS ALONG THE LA/MS BORDER...AND THESE MAY POSE AT LEAST A
MARGINAL THREAT OF SEVERE WEATHER.

THE WARM FRONT HAS LIFTED NWD TO NEAR LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN...WWD TO
JUST SOUTH OF BATON ROUGE...TO NEAR A WEAK SURFACE LOW JUST EAST OF
LAKE CHARLES. SCATTERED STORMS CONTINUE DEVELOPING IN THE WARM
SECTOR...BUT SO FAR THE OVERALL CHARACTER OF THE STORMS HAS NOT BEEN
PARTICULARLY ROBUST DUE TO MARGINAL THERMODYNAMIC PROFILES.
NEVERTHELESS...HODOGRAPHS ARE EXPECTED TO REMAIN SUPPORTIVE OF
ORGANIZED STORMS STRUCTURES INCLUDING BOW ECHOES AND SUPERCELLS WITH
LOW LEVEL MESOCYCLONES AS THE LOW LEVEL JET SHIFTS EWD THROUGH LA
NEXT FEW HOURS. OTHER STORMS HAVE INCREASED ALONG THE SWRN MS/SERN
LA BORDER. THESE STORMS APPEAR SLIGHTLY ELEVATED NORTH OF WARM
FRONT...BUT MAY BE BASED CLOSE ENOUGH TO THE SURFACE TO POSE A LEAST
A MARGINAL THREAT OF ISOLATED STRONG WIND GUSTS AND PERHAPS A BRIEF
TORNADO.

..DIAL.. 11/25/2007

Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
280. V26R
10:35 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
If this front continues its easterly trek, looks like Fla going to get nailed in a few days

Link
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
279. Weather456
6:33 PM AST on November 25, 2007
The helicity over Louisiana is favorable for tornado formation.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
278. V26R
10:32 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Nasty Right Hand turn by Mitag!
Someone got lucky!

Link
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
277. Weather456
5:56 PM AST on November 25, 2007
This storm is becoming more and more define

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
276. taistelutipu
11:43 PM EET on November 25, 2007
Thanks for posting, Hurricaneblast. Seems to be 94W from the Navy site. There is yet another invest, 95W which seems to be southeast of 94W but I'm not quite sure about that. Do you have a satellite image for both invests? The navy site provides only small ones for each system.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
275. Hurricaneblast
9:24 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Another storm right on Typhoon Mitag's tail.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
274. Weather456
5:05 PM AST on November 25, 2007
never mind
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
273. Weather456
5:00 PM AST on November 25, 2007
can anyone tell me how can i contact the NWS, NHC or any of the centers by email.

Thanks
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
272. flaboyinga
3:39 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Greetings to one and all. I've been kinda busy lately and have been looking in without logging on. I hope everyone had an exceptionally great Thanksgiving holiday. We were able to spend time with most of the immediate family and also some of the extended family. And family is what it's all about. I'm goin back to lurking. I'll look in from time to time. Y'all take care. Later.
270. H2PV
8:25 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
"If people could see the satellite imagery that we monitor, they would realize we're not joking," Cruz said.

Six Die in Flooding as Typhoon Mitag Heads Toward Philippines

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,312771,00.html

Even where people do see the satellite imagery they don't act soon enough too often.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
269. pottery
4:08 PM AST on November 25, 2007
Good Afternoon. Anybody here ?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
268. extreme236
7:35 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
2007 Atlantic hurricane season below average

This is the headline from the TWC hurricane center thing they have on their site. While this is true for the 1995-2006 average, it isnt true for the long term average, and they say that it is above average for the long term, however the title is misleading in some ways
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
267. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
7:18 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
PAGASA

Tropical Cyclone Bulletin #19
============================
Typhoon "Mina" has accelerated and made landfall over Palanan, Isabela.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm "LANDO" is expected to re-enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) by tomorrow.

Maximum sustained winds is 90 knots with gusts up to 105 knots.

Signal Warnings
=================
Signal #3 (100-185 km/h)

1.Luzon Region
------
a..Isabela
b.Northern Aurora
c.Quirino
d.Nueva Vizcaya
e.Ifugao
f.Mt. Province
g.Kalinga
h.Apayao
i.Cagayan
j.Babuyan Group of Islands
k.Abra
l.Ilocos Norte
m.Ilocos Sur

Signal #2 (60-100 km/h)

1 Luzon Region
----
a.Northern Quezon
b.Nueva Ecija
c.Benguet
d.La Union
e.Bataan
f.Rest of Aurora
g.Batanes Group of Islands

Signal #1 (30-60 km/h)

1.Luzon Region
----
a.Camarines Norte
b.Rest of Quezon
c.Polillo Island
d.Pangasinan

2.Visayas Region
---
a.No signals raised.

3.Mindanao Region
---
a.No signals raised.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
266. extreme236
7:11 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Well if it had to fail I guess this would be the best time for the atlantic but bad for the southern hemisphere for their season if it is in fact failing....maybe its not failing...guess we will have to wait for more passes to see if its true.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
265. Weather456
3:07 PM AST on November 25, 2007
I saw that this morning...Don't know if this is its final stroke.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
264. extreme236
6:40 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Is quikscat failing or is there just some sort of error? The ascending pass and descending pass didnt show anything except one swath.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
263. H2PV
6:36 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Clear Views of Mitag-Alaska Connection.



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
261. Weather456
2:27 PM AST on November 25, 2007
24hrs of darkness for Barrow, Alaska



Sunrise in Sitka, Alaska



Massive storm

Gale force winds extend outward almost 500 miles

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
260. Weather456
2:06 PM AST on November 25, 2007
thanks
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
257. Beachfoxx
11:58 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Pat,

Great Graphic, thanks for the link. :~)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
256. Patrap
11:58 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Quiet on Bourbon Street.Saints outta town at Carolina.
Im out for Kickoff.
NOAA radio prepped and ready. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
255. Patrap
11:58 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Heres 15 webcams for New Orleans area 456.Some are down still from Katrina. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435

Viewing: 305 - 255

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Local Weather

Overcast
28 °F
Overcast