An NOAA-operated Gulfstream IV jet flying 50 miles north of Hurricane Lee’s eye has a key purpose: To help forecasters determine where the storm is headed.
Why it matters: The biggest uncertainty with these storms is knowing their path of potential destruction well in advance. For Lee, a big question is how it will impact eastern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
The big picture: During the past few decades, storm track forecasts have become far more accurate, with some gains made in intensity forecasting as well.
Zoom in: At the moment, computer model runs keep vacillating on precisely where Hurricane Lee is headed.
Flashback: A few hours before the flight, during a briefing at NOAA’s aviation HQ in Lakeland, Florida, flight meteorologist Sofia de Solo described the approximately 8-hour, 3,400-nautical-mile mission near and around Lee.
State of play: The data from these dropsondes as well as a specialized tail-mounted Doppler weather radar, is fed into the weather models that help forecasters predict the path and intensity of the storm.
Zoom out: NOAA scientists credit “Gonzo” as one reason for the gains in forecast accuracy in recent years.
The intrigue: Data from NOAA’s research fleet has helped extend track forecasts for Lee and other hurricanes from five days to seven, in conjunction with the operational launch of a new computer model known as the HAFS.
Of note: The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, operating ships and a variety of aircraft, but it gets little attention.
The bottom line: The crew’s work helped refine the projections for Lee starting early Tuesday.