With this weekend’s arrival of the NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft on Virginia’s eastern shore, scientists and pilots are now ready to start the NOAA-led mission to improve hurricane forecasts of track and intensity using data collected by the Global Hawk during the season’s hurricanes.
The Global Hawk landed Saturday morning, August 22, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia, where NOAA will work with NASA scientists on the mission called Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology, or SHOUT. The mission builds on earlier collaborative research led by NASA and will move the Global Hawk closer to being put into operational use as a weather forecast observations tool.
“We’re flying the Global Hawk above hurricanes and other severe storms to refine it as a new, powerful tool with the potential to contribute to better forecasts of where hurricanes go and how intense they are,” said Robbie Hood, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program. “The mission is part of NOAA’s work to improve our nation’s preparedness and resilience to hurricanes and other severe storms.”
From now until the end of September, pilots and scientists from NOAA, NASA and partners will direct a series of Global Hawk flights out over the Atlantic Ocean basin to collect data on temperature, moisture, wind speed and direction. The real time data will go into National Weather Service forecast models for use by the National Hurricane Center.
“The Global Hawk allows us to stay over these weather patterns a greater amount of time than manned aircraft,” said Gary Wick, NOAA’s lead scientist for the mission. “It provides us with an observing tool that has the endurance of a satellite but provides finer resolution data and the precision of an aircraft.”
The Global Hawk is equipped with instruments to profile the inner workings of storms, including:
- Dropsondes developed by NOAA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research that are released from the aircraft to profile temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction
- NASA-developed radar designed to measure precipitation and wind speed
- Microwave sounder from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to take vertical profiles of temperature and humidity
- A NASA lighting instrument package to measure the electric field of thunderstorms
This season, scientists will also test whether the data from the Global Hawk can help replace data collected by satellites in the unlikely event that a satellite goes down. “We’re hopeful that won’t occur, but we need to evaluate all options,” said Wick.
The Global Hawk, managed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, provides a unique vantage point for weather observations because it flies higher and longer than any manned aircraft. It allows data collection from 60,000 feet, an altitude nearly 20,000 feet higher than manned aircraft, to the ocean surface. It can gather weather data continuously for up to 24 hours.
SHOUT is funded in part by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, passed by Congress in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Sandy.
For more information on SHOUT go to: http://uas.noaa.gov/shout/