An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Feature Search

Andersen offers launch point for multinational cyclone study

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Two Air Force Reserve WC-130Js and a Naval Research Lab P-3 aircraft deployed here recently to conduct meteorological research on tropical cyclones in the Western Pacific from August through September.

During the project, labeled Tropical Cyclone Structure-2008, WC-130 aircrews from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron "Hurricane Hunters," Keesler AFB, Miss., will work with scientists from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

The agencies, both located in Monterey, Calif., are conducting a multi-national study to understand, observe and predict the potential impacts of Pacific tropical cyclones.

"It is part of a nine-nation project under the umbrella of the World Meteorological Organization, which is an arm of the United Nations," said Patrick Harr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif., and lead scientist for the program. "The overall goal is to increase predictability associated with all aspects of tropical cyclones over the western North Pacific."

Russell Elsberry, a professor of Meteorology at the NPS who is assisting with the study said Japan, Korea and Taiwan are supporting the endeavor. He added Germany, England, France and the European Union are also assisting because the information learned in the Pacific could be applied to predicting similar events in the Atlantic.

To facilitate the study, scientists enlisted the aid of the 53rd WRS and their WC-130s.

"The WC-130J is an essential component of the observational strategy to study the typhoon life cycle," said Professor Elsberry.

Fifteen 53rd WRS maintainers and 13 flyers are deployed to Andersen to ensure the aircraft are ready to fly 24 hours a day, according to Lt. Col. Roy Deatherage, 53rd WRS mission commander. The seasoned aircrews will monitor the cyclone and eventually fly into the storm's eye wall when it matures chasing the storm until it transcends into something else entirely.

"Our mission here is to better understand the structure, the formation and what makes a tropical system tick out there in the Pacific," said Colonel Deatherage. "In its infancy, before it is even a tropical depression or hurricane, we'll go out and collect data."

The Hurricane Hunters are conducting their portion of the research using WC-130s fitted with a variety of equipment used for weather research.

"In flight, the aircraft measures 28 parameters including wind speed, direction, temperature - all of this is sent real time via satellite from the plane to the customer back here [at Andersen]," said the colonel.

He said the equipment and sensors onboard will help provide key data for the research project.

According to the 53rd WRS, a critical piece of equipment on board the aircraft is the dropsonde system. The GPS Dropsonde Windfinding System is a cylindrically-shaped instrument about 16 inches long and 3.5 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 2.5 pounds. The dropsonde is equipped with a high frequency radio and other sensing devices and is released from the aircraft about every 400 miles over water.

The scientists will rely heavily on the data collected by the dropsondes as they fall to the ocean.

"A critical mission of the WC-130 with its dropsonde deployments, and especially the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer, is to observe the typhoon intensity and wind structure in as many conditions as possible from the formation stage to the extra-tropical transition stage," said Professor Elsberry.

As the instrument descends to the sea surface, it measures and relays to the aircraft a vertical atmospheric profile of the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure and wind data, explained Colonel Deatherage.

Professor Elsberry said the Air Force Reserve team flying will actively monitor and report on how tropical cyclones form, intensify and change through their life cycle and the impact they may later have across the North Pacific and potentially North America.

"The measurements will fill a critical gap in the validation of the satellite-based techniques for intensity estimation, which thus far have only been validated in the Atlantic where the WC-130Js of the 53rd WRS regularly fly such missions," added Professor Elsberry. "Since the typhoons typically form from monsoon conditions and have different structures than hurricanes, these WC-130J measurements are extremely important."

From Guam the information is processed and sent to the operations center at the NPS in Monterey. "They're the brain trust for all of this - they'll put it into a computer model," said Colonel Deatherage.

The data collected by the WC-130s at Andersen is only one piece of the puzzle; three other research aircraft will measure different aspects of the storm.

"There are four aircraft in total that will be moving about the (Western Pacific) from Andersen to Kadena, to Atsugi, Yokota, and Misawa in Japan to collect data on the storms as they approach Japan," said Professor Elsberry.

A Naval Research Libratory P-3, also flying from Andersen, will collect data using its ELDORA radar which maps the structure of the storm. The DOTSTAR, an Astra business class jet, will fly out of Taiwan and a Falcon, another business class jet, will fly from the U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan. Both aircraft are modified with equipment for meteorological studies.

In addition to the aircraft, scientists working from Hawaii will launch high-altitude driftsondes to round out the research. Driftsondes are zero-pressure balloons that go up to 60,000 feet, according to Colonel Deatherage. He said the balloon has a gondola that has small dropsondes the scientists can release remotely by satellite.

"It is really the first research program that plans to observe the entire lifecycle of a tropical cyclone from formation near Guam to transition into the midlatitudes near Japan," said Professor Harr. He said the data collected will be invaluable to helping scientists understand and predict similar events in the Pacific and the Atlantic.