Forecasters rely on data collected by three different aircraft to monitor a hurricane's intensity and motion. Two are highly specialized planes operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the third is operated by the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
The most sophisticated plane, it carries advanced instruments to measure surface wind speed. The NOAA aircraft flies into the eye of a hurricane at 10,000 feet, releasing dropwindsondes.
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Up to 50 per mission are released, and they transmit data by radio. The top is a parachute to stabilize decent, and the bottom is a humidity sensor. They are about 16 in. long.
This unique NOAA aircraft flies at high altitudes in the environment around a hurricane. The jet uses dropwindsondes to measure the steering currents that determine a storm's direction.
Operated by the Air Force Reserve, it penetrates the storm's eye wall like NOAA's Orion, following an "alpha" flight path. By releasing dropwindsondes, it records a hurricane's most violent winds near the ocean surface.