Hurricane season has begun.
June 1 marks the first day of what’s predicted to be an above-normal hurricane season for 2019.
NOAA flew in one of its planes that predicts and tracks some of the largest hurricanes.
The Gulfstream IV has been in operation since 1994 and has flown above some of the biggest hurricanes including Hurricane Katrina. The airplane was flown to Hawaii last year when Hurricane Lane was approaching the state.
The Gulfstream IV is typically based in Florida and flown to the Pacific if a storm looks like a potential threat to Hawaii.
On Saturday, the public got a chance to look at the $60-million plane.
NOAA officials showed media and the public biodegradable cardboard tubes that are dropped from the plane while they fly 45,000 feet above the hurricane. The tubes have sensors inside that measure the pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction of the hurricane.
The data is then sent via satellite to the National Hurricane Center within five minutes, and an updated track is given.
“Last year they upgraded Hurricane Lane from a Category 4 to a Category 5 based on one of our initial passes,” said Richard Henning, flight director for NOAA.
Henning has been flying through hurricanes for 24 years and said Hurricane Lane was the worst hurricane he had to fly through other than Katrina.
“Hurricane Lane was particularly nasty,” he said. “It was extremely turbulent, it was probably the second roughest flight I’ve ever been on in my career—only topped by Katrina.”
With NOAA predicting five to eight cyclones for the Central Pacific this season, up from the normal four to five, Henning knows he’ll be busy this season.
“Because it is an El Nino year and the waters are warmer than normal across the latitude south of [Hawaii], you can expect at least a couple of intense Hurricanes—Category 3, 4, 5,” Henning said.
The El Nino weather pattern can also cause other problems for Hawaii.
“The expectation this year is we might not have as much wind shear,” said Chris Brenchley, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “So that would help those storms to remain strong and potentially be a threat.”
The last big El Nino season was in 2015 which saw 16 hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean region. The last time that many hurricanes in the Pacific was in 1992 when Iniki hit Kauai, which was also an El Nino year.
“There are a lot of hurricanes in the Pacific but Hawaii is lucky because it’s a small target in a big area,” Henning said. “Luckily the water is a little cooler just east of the Big Island so storms that are really big, nasty hurricanes that form off the coast of Mexico that head towards the islands will weaken as they approach the Big Island,” he said.
“The really, really bad storms like Iniki in 1992 are the ones that stay down near the Equator and at the last minute curve up North right into the islands,” Henning said. “Lane wanted to do that last year but was torn apart by wind shear and veered away at the last minute.”
NOAA says peak hurricane season is in August when the waters are the warmest of the year.