UMass hurricane hunters flying into the eye of the storm

July 10, 2000

Real-time information helps predict hurricanes' paths, intensities

AMHERST, Mass. -- University of Massachusetts hurricane hunter Jim Carswell will be flying into the eyes of hurricanes again this year, using high-tech weather sensors developed at UMass. These sensors help predict the path and intensity of the storms. Scientists expect this hurricane season, which runs from now until Oct. 31, to be "above average," with at least three severe hurricanes. Graduate student Tony Castells is already in Miami, installing the instruments in the aircraft; Carswell will join him in early August, when the bigger storms are expected to begin brewing.

The UMass team is responsible for sending real-time data to the National Hurricane Center. This information is used to establish landfall warnings and intensity reports. Pinpoint forecasts give people in threatened areas time to protect their property and evacuate to safety, according to Carswell. "We do research that has an immediate positive impact on people's safety," said Carswell. "That's a pretty neat experience."

Flying through the wall of a hurricane "feels like riding a spinning carnival ride, mounted on a roller-coaster," said Carswell, an engineer with the University's Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL). Satellite images offer an idea of a storm's location and intensity, Carswell said. But it takes reconnaissance flights to get the more precise information that is critical to forecasting the storm's path. Missions last about 10 hours, and entail anywhere from five to more than 15 passes through a storm's eye, in a cross-shaped pattern, in a P-3 airplane equipped to withstand winds whipping up to 180 miles an hour.

The remote sensors are designed and constructed by researchers at the UMass lab, part of the department of electrical and computer systems engineering. A specially modified radar "looks" at the water surface, as well as the rain, to determine the storm's wind speed and wind direction. Scientists are also interested in determining how much water is in a storm system, since flooding can cause more damage than wind -- as Hurricane Floyd demonstrated last year.

This is Carswell's fourth season as a hurricane hunter, and the ninth year UMass has been involved in such reconnaissance missions. He flies along with researchers from the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Aircraft Operations Center.
Note: Jim Carswell can be reached at 413-545-4867 until early August. Thereafter, he can be reached at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center at 813-828-3310, ext. 3117, or
Further information is available at


University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related Hurricane Articles from Brightsurf:

Hurricane resilience in the Bahamas
A new Stanford-led study provides information on how to invest in natural coastal ecosystems that the Bahamian government, community leaders and development banks are applying in post-disaster recovery and future storm preparation in the Bahamas.

NASA finds a weaker hurricane Juliette
Hurricane Juliette has been weakening and NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided a look at the strength of storms within.

NASA sees Dorian become a hurricane
NASA's Terra satellite passed over the northwestern Atlantic Ocean as Dorian reached hurricane status during the afternoon of August 28, 2019.

Landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017 and triggered more than 40,000 landslides in at least three-fourths of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities.

NASA sees Atlantic's Leslie become a hurricane
NASA's Aqua satellite captured an infrared image of Hurricane Leslie that revealed strong storms circled the center.

NASA sees Walaka becoming a powerful Hurricane
The Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM core satellite passed over the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and analyzed Walaka's rainfall and cloud structure as it was strengthening into a hurricane.

NASA finds a weaker Hurricane Olivia
Infrared data from NASA's Terra satellite revealed that the area of coldest cloud topped thunderstorms has dropped from the previous day, indicating weaker uplift and less-strong storms

NASA looks at heavy rainmaker in Hurricane Lane
Cloud top temperatures provide scientists with an understanding of the power of a tropical cyclone.

Hector weakens but remains Category 4 Hurricane
Hurricane Hector has weakened slightly but still remains a robust Category Four storm at present.

UA forecast: Below-average hurricane activity
The UA hurricane forecasting model, which has proved to be extremely accurate over the years, is calling for fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic this year on the heels of a devastating 2017.

Read More: Hurricane News and Hurricane Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to