Who are the hurricane hunters?

The hurricane hunters are headed to a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

HOUSTON – Whenever tropical cyclones threaten the United States, the hurricane hunters are deployed to help forecasters get a better idea of what is happening inside the storm.

Here's a closer look at the role this team has in helping keep you safe during hurricane season.

Who are the hurricane hunters?

The hurricane hunters are a special unit of the Air Force, called the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. They fly planes directly into tropical systems and drop instruments inside to record the atmosphere. There are also hunters who fly around the storm to sample the atmosphere.

What do they do?

Hurricane hunters operate a fleet of 10 Lockheed WC-130J aircraft, which usually penetrate the storm's eye several times per mission at altitudes between 500 feet and 10,000 feet. During the mission, the crew drops instruments called "dropsondes."

"Dropsondes" are expendable weather reconnaissance devices created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research that are designed to be dropped from an aircraft at altitude over water to measure storm conditions as the device falls to the surface.

What do they look for?

While taking measurements of various atmospheric conditions, like air pressure and wind speed, they also look for winds from every direction. That tells them if the system has a circulation. If it does, then it is organizing. Organization defines a tropical cyclone.

Why is this work so important?

Without going into the storm, forecasters can only depend on satellite and radar to see the storm.

The information collected by the hurricane hunters increases knowledge about how strong the system is and exactly where it is located.

How will they help forecast the system in the Gulf of Mexico this week?

Knowing the exact location is very important to the models. This allows these tools to have better data and therefore build better forecasts about the path and strength of the storm.

About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.