Typhoon Hunters return to the Western Pacific

For those who track and forecast storms in the western pacific there is a extra challenge in doing so compared to our friends in the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic and that is a lack of aircraft recon.


Consistent typhoon reconnaissance ended nearly 30 years ago in 1987 with the closing of the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron base in Guam.


The squadron was responsible for some of the lowest official pressure readings in history in a tropical cyclone and was key in forecasting the storms for a half a century.


In 2010 a hurricane hunter ventured in to the western pacific to study the Impact of Typhoons on the Ocean in the Pacific or “ITOP”.   The last flight to punch a eye wall in the Western Pacific was on October 18th 2010.


Taiwan still does flights on a irregular basis around storms to get steering flow information but never near the storms core.


This could be changing in the near future though thanks to a Japanese Research team from Nagoya University, the University of the Ryukus and the Japan Meteorological Agency.


They have purchased a Lear Jet and equipped it with observational equipment including drop sondes. These are a type of equipment that are launched from the bottom of aircraft to get a gauge of the atmosphere inside a typhoon.


Flights are expected to start in 2017 and continue through 2020 with hopes of extending if funding remains suitable.


The Jet is likely to be stationed in Okinawa in southern Japan a location that is hit often several times a year by typhoons.


Due to the small size of the aircraft compared to its cousin the C-130 hurricane hunters it may not be able to punch the eye wall on significant typhoons, but one of the researchers during a interview with NHK TV stated they will try to get as close as possible to the storms center as safety permits.



The information gathered during flights will primarily be used for research purposes but since JMA is also working in the program it is apparent that it will also be used in directly nowcasting and forecasting typhoons tracks and strength.


Intensity forecasting is a bullet point for the agency since in recent years we have seen a surge in “Super Typhoons” in the western pacific.  Many people arguing it would have made a massive difference if there was recon during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.


This is why the announcement of recon in to typhoons next year comes with such applause.

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