Scientists Watch Hurricanes From Storms’ Birth Until After Death With AM-Elena Bjt
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ People who fly through hurricanes to help forecasters keep track of them are seen as daredevils with dangerous jobs by some, but tracking even fickle storms like Elena can be boring, experts say.
″On a 10-hour flight, you’ve got a few times when you’ve got to do something and do it right,″ radar operator Steve Lord said of his work aboard National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration planes. ″But for the other nine hours, that’s what it is, boring.″
Every moment the planes are in the air, computers aboard NOAA’s two Lockheed P-3 Orion turboprops relay information about the storm to the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, said Jim McFadden, a NOAA research coordinator.
″There are exciting periods, when you’re flying into the eye,″ he said. ″But then there are periods when you’re flying along and just looking at monitors. It can drag on.″
Temperatures inside and outside a hurricane’s eye, air pressures, wind speeds and direction help forecasters plot where storms are going.
Because they are pushed along by ″rivers of wind″ in the upper atmosphere, tracking prevailing winds also is important, said Neil Frank, director of the hurricane center.
Before the ″hurricane hunter airplanes″ can probe inside storms, information comes from satellites and passing ships, giving only ocean surface and upper atmosphere pictures, said hurricane forecaster Hal Gerrish.
At the hurricane center, forecasters work 12-hour shifts without days off to combine all the information to make up predictions of storm direction and strength, said hurricane forecaster Hal Gerrish.
Satellite tracking begins when pockets of atmospheric disturbances spin off the African coast, a common event during the June-to-November hurricane season.
Elena spun away from Africa about a week ago, attracting notice because it moved west at an unusually fast clip of 30 to 35 mph, Gerrish said. The disturbance soon became a tropical storm, and by Thursday morning swirled at speeds of 74 mph, the minimum for hurricane status.