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Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters assist with monsoon research

The U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron spent part of June in Sri Lanka flying missions over the Indian Ocean as part of a research project to study the island’s atmosphere and predict monsoon patterns. (Courtesy photo)

The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron spent part of June in Sri Lanka flying missions over the Indian Ocean as part of a research project to study the island’s atmosphere and predict monsoon patterns. (Courtesy photo)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- The U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron spent part of June in Sri Lanka flying missions over the Indian Ocean as part of a research project to study the island’s atmosphere and predict monsoon patterns.

The Hurricane Hunter crew arrived June 15 to assist with research in the Bay of Bengal on Monsoon Intraseasonal Oscillations, or MISO, which occur in the Indian Ocean on a 20 to 60 day cycle of heavy, or ‘active,’ rainfall and dry, or ‘break,’ periods during the monsoon season.

They worked with the University of Notre Dame and Government of Sri Lanka, which are partnering on a five-year study, funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, of oceanic conditions across the Indian Ocean to better understand how the atmosphere and ocean interact with setting up MISO events to better predict weather and save lives.

The 53rd WRS is the only Department of Defense unit that flies into storms to gather weather data for National Hurricane Center forecasts. However, this time they flew missions in conjunction with research vessel Thomas G. Thompson in the Bay of Bengal to gather information on complex phenomena across an air-sea boundary and how they set up rainfall patterns, said Harindra Fernando, a mechanical engineer at the University of Notre Dame and one of the project’s leaders.

“The crews released dropsondes and buoys to collect both atmospheric and oceanic data,” said 1st Lt. Garrett Black, 53rd WRS aerial weather reconnaissance officer. “It’s a great and rare opportunity to be able to sample monsoonal conditions in the Bay of Bengal with both air and sea assets. The data will better help with understanding the dynamics and atmospheric setups that drive these seasonal, heavy rain events that are vital to the agriculture and economy for coastal Indian Ocean communities.”

“This project also has large scale socioeconomic impact since this weather phenomena impacts 1 billion people,” said Lt. Col. Kaitlyn Woods, 53rd WRS chief meteorologist.

Much of the Indian subcontinent is dependent on monsoon rainfall and are affected by the flood and droughts that can be created from MISO BOB, she added.
“Active and break phases of monsoons determine the amount of water available in a given season as well as times they will be available,” said Fernando. “As such, prediction of MISO events are of utmost importance for water resources planning in the region.”

The break phases are associated with drought periods, and the torrential rains associated with active phases of the monsoons cause floods and landslides, and hence predictions of MISO events are of great interest for disaster management, said Fernando.

“This research is also of importance to the U.S. Naval 5th Fleet, which operates in the Indian Ocean,” said Woods. “The 5th Fleet’s operations often hinge on the forecasting of atmospheric and oceanic weather events.”

The weather patterns in the Indian Ocean are very energetic and impact weather in other parts of the world, especially in Pacific, said Fernando.

“MISOs have a role in global weather, and hence the missions 53rd WRS flew have implications in improving the prediction of global weather patterns,” said Fernando.

A second comprehensive MISO BOB field study will be conducted next summer, which will involve measurements using research vessels, land stations in multiple countries, and hopefully aircraft measurements involving the 53rd WRS, said Fernando.

In addition to the 53rd WRS and Notre Dame, the following organizations are also part of the MISO BOB field project: National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Maldives Climate Observatory, Meteorological Bureau of Seychelles, Army Research Labs , Air Force Institute of Technology, Naval Research Lab, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Indian Institute of Science, NOAA Earth Systems Research Labs, NOAA Global Climate and Weather Modeling, Columbia University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Washington, and University of Massachusetts.

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