Since 1982, the Hurricane Research Division (HRD) has conducted a series of experiments with research aircraft to enhance the number of observations in the environment and the core of hurricanes threatening the United States. During these experiments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration WP-3D aircraft crews release Omega dropwindsondes (ODWs) at 15–20-min intervals along the flight track to obtain profiles of wind, temperature, and humidity between flight level and the sea surface. Data from the ODWs are transmitted back to the aircraft and then sent via satellite to the Tropical Prediction Center and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), where the observations become part of the operational database.
This paper tests the hypothesis that additional observations improve the objective track forecast models that provide operational guidance to the hurricane forecasters. The testing evaluates differences in forecast tracks from models run with and without the ODW data in a research mode at HRD, NCEP, and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. The middle- and lower-tropospheric ODW data produce statistically significant reductions in 12–60-h mean forecast errors. The error reductions, which range from 16% to 30%, are at least as large as the accumulated improvement in operational forecasts achieved over the last 20–25 years. This breakthrough provides strong experimental evidence that more comprehensive observations in the hurricane environment and core will lead to immediate improvements in operational forecast guidance.
*Hurricane Research Division/AOML/NOAA, Miami, Florida.
+National Centers for Environmental Prediction/NOAA, Camp Springs, Maryland.
#Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA, Princeton, New Jersey.
@Current affiliation: Tropical Prediction Center/NWS/NOAA, Miami, Florida.