NOAA 2001-R517
Contact: Jana Goldman


The hurricane season that seemed to be relatively quiet or average for most U.S. citizens is now causing excitement among federal, university, and military meteorologists as it ends Nov. 30. NOAA scientists accomplished a major research goal for the 2001 season when they flew into a well-developed Atlantic hurricane, for the first time measuring it from top to bottom for two consecutive days. Now, research has begun on the data that will further our understanding of the world's most powerful storms.

Researchers from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flew perilously deep into Hurricane Humberto extracting volumes of information about the characteristics and structure of the storm in late September.

"The information we collected during this experiment is a goldmine of data for researchers and students to study for the next 15 to 20 years," said Hugh Willoughby, director of the Hurricane Research Division, located in NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla. We now have information that sets the stage for a new generation of higher resolution models that are now being developed. That translates into more specific forecasts needed to protect lives and property with a minimum of false alarms."

The Coordinated Observations of Vortex Evolution and Structure (COVES) project, a joint effort between NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and universities, required coordination of six different aircraft flying in, around, and above Hurricane Humberto over a two-day period. Scientists now list Humberto as the most complete and well-studied hurricane ever with four times more data collected than in any other previous storm.

Precise planning and collaboration was required to operate so many airplanes safely at multiple flight levels in the storm. NASA flew two research planes at 65,000 and 37,000 feet, NOAA's two P-3s went up between 6,000 and 13,000 feet and the G-IV jet flew at 45,000 feet, all while the U.S. Air Force's weather reconnaissance C-130 was in the air at 10,000 feet.

The planes dropped 395 probes into the hurricane and the ocean below, including a newly redesigned dropwindsonde, used to measure wind, temperature and moisture. Instruments onboard the planes, such as the remote sensing equipment that can measure wave height and wind speed at the ocean surface – factors that damage and erode shorelines, also collected a wealth of information. Doppler radars allowed scientists to peer into the core of the hurricane and provided three-dimensional maps of wind and rainfall.

"What we have now is a substantial set of information on wind speed, pressure, precipitation, and other parameters describing a run-of-the-mill hurricane as it increased and then decreased in intensity in an environment with significant wind shear. It's nearly perfect," said Frank Marks, manager of NOAA's hurricane research field program. "We're looking forward to working on extracting nuggets of information from this goldmine and to make this information widely available to the research community."

A new instrument installed just this season measured the microscopic particles of dust and other aerosols suspended in the air around the hurricane. Both meteorologists and oceanographers are interested in how hurricanes pick up and disperse African dust across the Atlantic and atmospheric chemists are studying the distribution of ozone from the stratosphere to the ocean surface. COVES also was the highest priority of the 2001 United States Weather Research Program Hurricanes at Landfall experiment.

NOAA's Hurricane Research Division studies hurricanes and tropical storms and includes a cadre of researchers who fly into the storms gathering data that are relayed to the National Hurricane Center which issues the official hurricane forecasts and warnings. Researchers began flying through hurricanes this season with Allison on Aug. 8 and ended with Michelle on Nov. 4.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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