Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

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

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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

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355. BajaALemt
9:39 PM CST on November 25, 2007
I did? rofl!! Uhhhhhhh Uhhhhhhhhhh!!
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
354. V26R
3:37 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Damn Baja ya beat me to it
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
353. V26R
3:35 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Don't think you'll get too much severe stuff FlaB
More a Rain event for you guys, which you need
Front looks to slow down a bit when it approaches the coastal areas
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
352. BajaALemt
9:35 PM CST on November 25, 2007
lol, flaboy. I just got a visual of someone seein that comin yellin......INCOMING!!!
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
351. BajaALemt
9:32 PM CST on November 25, 2007
THE BEST THREAT FOR A FEW STRONGER THUNDERSTORMS WILL ALSO BE WEST
OF A LINE FROM KABY TO KAAF BEFORE THE BEST DYNAMICS RETREAT NORTH.
HOWEVER...EVEN WEST OF THIS LINE DO NOT ANTICIPATE SEEING A
WIDESPREAD EVENT AS INSTABILITY WILL BE HIGHLY LACKING. MEAN SREF MU
CAPE FIELDS SHOWING A BRIEF SLIVER OF AROUND 500 J/KG ALONG AND JUST
AHEAD OF THE FRONT AND KEEPS THE 1000 J/KG CONTOUR JUST OFFSHORE.
THE COMBINATION OF THE LACK OF SIGNIFICANT CAPE AND BULK SHEAR
BETWEEN 35-45 KNOTS IS RESULTING IN CRAVEN PARAMETERS GENERALLY LESS
THAN 10000...EXCEPT OVER THE WESTERN COASTAL WATERS. THESE NUMBERS
ARE GENERALLY BELOW WHAT IS ANTICIPATED FOR ORGANIZED SEVERE
CONVECTION. AREA OF MOST CONCERN FOR AN ISOLATED STRONG TO POSSIBLY
SEVERE STORM WILL BE ACROSS OUR EASTERN FLORIDA PANHANDLE
ZONES...ESPECIALLY ALONG THE IMMEDIATE COAST IN CLOSEST PROXIMITY TO
THE BEST INSTABILITY. MOST LIKELY IMPACT WOULD BE ISOLATED DAMAGING
WINDS ASSOCIATED WITH SHORT DURATION BOWING SEGMENTS THAT REACH THE
COAST.

Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
350. flaboyinga
10:29 PM EST on November 25, 2007
I don't think he's been on for a while. He might have had a power outage. I hope it doesn't hold together all the way to Waycross. I don't want my manger scene joining the 82nd air borne.lol
349. BajaALemt
9:31 PM CST on November 25, 2007
That one was late afternoon, v2. That one was......flash.....BOOM..It made me laugh and go, "YEAH!!" out loud...by myself ..hehe
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
348. V26R
3:31 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
You're in the area for 15% for damaging winds and 2% for tornados
So looks good for something down your way
Link
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
347. V26R
3:28 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
BTW was looking at some of your Pix
That lightning shot is really Awesome
Was that a daytime sot or evening?
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
346. BajaALemt
9:27 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Local here is saying possiblity of strong to severe. Outlook shows 'slight', so I guess we'll see
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
345. BajaALemt
9:25 PM CST on November 25, 2007
I like when the storms get wicked here. Pretty awesome
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
344. V26R
3:25 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
how bad it it get at his place FlaB?
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
343. V26R
3:24 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Becareful what you wish for Baja
You may just get it

Don't think you'll get any twisters
but a real good light show in a few hours
is a sure bet

Link
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
342. BajaALemt
9:23 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Ha!! I liked THIS one (the other's prolly still over in pics *shrugs*)
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
341. flaboyinga
10:21 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Patrap was in the middle of those boomers a little while ago in his FEMA sardine can.
340. V26R
3:21 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Baja what happened to the Avatar???
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
339. BajaALemt
9:20 PM CST on November 25, 2007
I'm keepin an eye on that, v2...headin my way. Truth be told...I hope the sucker hangs together...Id LIKE a little severe to watch *smiles*
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
338. V26R
3:20 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Crazy shifts on the job keeping me busy
Holiday time doesn't help much either
Hows everyone been???

BTW Happy Holidays All!
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
337. V26R
3:18 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Nasty Squall Line East of NO
If the boomers hold together
Looks Like Pcola gonna get nailed tonight

Link
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
336. BajaALemt
9:20 PM CST on November 25, 2007
How the heck are ya? Long time no see
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
335. BajaALemt
9:18 PM CST on November 25, 2007
*laffs* Hiya v2 *adjusts hat* :P
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
334. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:17 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
HEAD ON APPLY DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD
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333. V26R
3:18 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Evening all
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
332. V26R
3:15 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Man My head is hurting
Oh wait
Is Baja around?
Member Since: July 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1762
331. flaboyinga
9:47 PM EST on November 25, 2007
I remember Donna back in 1960 as a teenager, watching out my bedroom window as it tore Punta Gorda and Charlotte County, Fla up. I realized then that the only thing we could do was try to guess where the storm was going and try to be someplace else. Earlier than that, I was aware they were gonna tear the limbs down and ruin our yard by flooding it with salt water. So up until Donna, I just thought of storms as a nuisance. When I did choose a place to settle down, it was Orlando with miles of land between me and a potential landfall. I'll always have a high degree of respect for the forecaster who went against everyone else and told them Charlie was going to hit Punta Gorda again and gave the people in harm's way a little extra warning. I was watching the Key West radar and told my wife it had turned enough to follow Donna into the same landfall. Anyway, that's what it's about. Watch, listen, learn, and try to make an intelligent prediction about who to warn, how to prepare, and where to go to be safer when it hits. (once more he slips and falls off of his soap box)lol
330. BajaALemt
8:57 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Nice shot of Mitag and Hagibis

Link
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
329. BajaALemt
8:50 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Nite 456
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
328. Weather456
10:49 PM AST on November 25, 2007
later
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327. BajaALemt
8:40 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Agreed. If it were all set in stone, none of us would be HERE in the first place would we...*laffs* I've said this about models too...if they were 'spot on', there'd be no reason for us to sit here tracking storms. It would kind of take the 'fun' out of it *shrugs*
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
326. lindenii
2:37 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Probably the biggest obstacle for us is to keep reminding ourselves that there is a big difference between the actual weather being observed and the NEWS that is being reported about it.

baha and baja both summed in up very nicely. Being able to interpret and predict tropical weather is very likely dependant on our coming to grips with the dynamics in play and (my words) accepting the fact that those dynamics are more like a bouncing ball than a rock in the middle of the road.
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325. BajaALemt
8:17 PM CST on November 25, 2007
It's kind of funny how season's get compared to one another...when really, they each have their own set of dynamics...
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
324. BajaALemt
8:07 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Recap
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
323. BahaHurican
9:08 PM EST on November 25, 2007
U know, this is the 3rd or 4th season in a row that defied our expectations. When you realize that we are still not sure what factors made 2004 and 2005 different from 2006 and 2007, you begin to understand how much further we have to go in our ability to interpret and predict tropical weather.
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322. lindenii
2:02 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
flaboyinga,

You are not alone there. To paraphrase a well known ad, We deserve a break for a while.

Living through Wilma was something I would prefer to not repeat anytime soon.
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321. BahaHurican
8:59 PM EST on November 25, 2007
lin,

I like the direction the NHC and other international weather bodies are heading with the revisions to the TC categories. We do need something more descriptive than simply wind damage, and changing those descriptors will certainly impact our interpretatation of what is or is not an active season.

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320. BahaHurican
8:55 PM EST on November 25, 2007
312. flaboyinga 8:47 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Baha, I hope you get to feeling better in the near future. I went thru a spell of it myself. Onward and upward.


Thanks for the good thoughts. I'm working on the Onward and upward part LOL. Did u know that along with "Forward" and "Together" those words form the national motto of The Bahamas? I thought they were rather appropriate . . .
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319. flaboyinga
8:54 PM EST on November 25, 2007
lindenii, I like to think it was because someone is watching over us and gave us a well needed break from the harm caused by a bunch of high category tropical systems.
318. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:50 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
T-MINUS 118HRS 10 MINS REMAIN OF
2007 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
GMT
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317. lindenii
1:54 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
Regarding post # 268 and an article by TWC.

It seems to be more and more evident that classifying a season by simply counting storms is not as descriptive as was first thought.

Note that there were 8 storms with winds <50 mph - 4 storms with winds <85 mph and only two storms with winds of 165 mph. Which is why the ACE for 2007 was only 67.

Something we really need to look at more closely is...Why were the shears so strong? Could it be that the shears had a Chaos theory basis in the two Beasties that did manage to develope? There has to be a logical reason why only two storms out of fourteen managed to break 85 mph.
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316. flaboyinga
8:51 PM EST on November 25, 2007
I just noticed the new avatar. I've been out of touch for a while, so it was a surprise to see it.
315. BajaALemt
7:50 PM CST on November 25, 2007
I know Andy had his MRI...I dont think they've gotten the results back yet. They DID have a nice thanksgiving tho
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
314. BajaALemt
7:49 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Hiya baHa...long time no see. You too, flaboy
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
313. flaboyinga
8:48 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Hi Baja, I hope your doin' great. Have you heard anything on Tigger's sons? We're still praying and I wondered how they were.
312. flaboyinga
8:42 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Baha, I hope you get to feeling better in the near future. I went thru a spell of it myself. Onward and upward.
311. BajaALemt
7:41 PM CST on November 25, 2007
Evenin folks........

How's your weather been today, Pat?
Member Since: September 25, 2007 Posts: 53 Comments: 8533
310. Weather456
9:02 PM AST on November 25, 2007
Caribbean Tonight

A deep upper ridge is centered along 11N/63W 20N/71W with broad anticyclonic flow from 90W to 65W. There is enough diffluence and tropical moisture associated with this ridge to generate scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms over the Central and Western Caribbean from 70W to the Central America coasts.

Low precipitable water values are continuing to be advected over the Eastern Caribbean by upper confluence and surface ridging. Thereby fair weather dominates. Patches of low level moisture are seen being advected across the Islands by the trades. These could induce periods of overcast skies and brief passing showers.

High pressure north of the region will continue to maintaining very breezy conditions across the Caribbean through the night into Monday. Most offshore buoys are reporting winds in excess of 18 knots with some gusts as high as 26 knots. These winds are causing large trees to sway but damage is expected to be minimal. As of seas, they are east-northeast near 15-25 ft. Choppy seas are already responsible for docking problem near St. Kitts. These winds are also pushing 15-20 ft seas west of Islands to the South American Coast. Small craft are advise to exercise caution over these waters.

by W456

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309. BahaHurican
8:17 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Evening everybody. I'm just "hailing", as they say around here. I notice we are having some activity there in the SW PAC.

I've been bogged down by work and illness, so I haven't had much time / energy to follow anything of late. Hopefully by the end of next week (after Advent :o) things will improve for me and I will have more time to give attention to the Southern Hemisphere.

Hope the SE US actually gets that rain they have been hoping / praying for . . ..
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308. flaboyinga
7:49 PM EST on November 25, 2007
307. HadesGodWyvern 7:45 PM EST on November 25, 2007
TROPICAL DEPRESSION 03F 1000 hPa>

Potential of developing into a tropical cyclone with the next 18-24 hours is low to moderate


Am I seeing things as they aren't, or has almost everything in the far east that started as a surface low developed into at least a tropical storm and made landfall. They are starting to look like Atlanta airport incoming flights to me. Each one seems to have another storm right behind it.
307. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
12:39 AM GMT on November 26, 2007
TROPICAL DEPRESSION 03F 1000 hPa>

Potential of developing into a tropical cyclone with the next 18-24 hours is low to moderate
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306. flaboyinga
7:26 PM EST on November 25, 2007
Pat, I went to bookmark ESL and realized how many bookmarks I have that were sites you have put up. When it comes to links of almost any kind, you are the man.

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

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