The Scientific Development Squadron (VXS) 1 of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory swiftly assembled a team and conducted a mission involving the airdrop of 18 SOFAR Spotter buoys into the Gulf of Mexico with less than 24 hours’ notice. This operation was carried out in preparation for Hurricane Idalia, which was scheduled to make landfall on Monday, August 28. The VXS-1 crew personally deployed these buoys from an NP-3C Orion aircraft on behalf of researchers collaborating with the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) for Hurricane Coastal Impacts (NHCI).
The deployment of the Spotters occurred just hours before Hurricane Idalia reached Keaton Beach, Florida, at approximately 7:45 a.m. EDT. Operating from an altitude of 1,000 feet aboard the P-3 aircraft traveling at 150 mph, the squadron strategically placed the buoys in the hurricane’s path. These Spotters collected real-time data on wave height, sea surface temperature, and barometric pressure between Monday, August 28, and Wednesday, August 30. This precise execution allowed the Spotters to make direct observations near the hurricane’s eye wall and the hazardous right-front quadrant of Idalia.
Project Director Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Peter expressed pride in the team’s swift response to execute the mission, emphasizing the importance of seizing such opportunities in the face of rapidly intensifying hurricanes. He also noted that VXS-1 serves as the Navy’s sole research squadron.
The 10 Spotters remain actively engaged in making real-time wave condition observations off the northwest coast of Florida. The data they collect will contribute to enhancing existing forecast models, advancing the understanding of hurricane dynamics, improving predictions of hurricane impacts, and bolstering efforts to protect coastal communities. The NHCI project concentrates on creating models tailored to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Florida Coast, and Eastern Seaboard.
Cmdr. Aaron Roberts, Commanding Officer, highlighted the significance of VXS-1’s unique missions worldwide, supporting research for the Department of the Navy and its partners, thus fostering scientific and technological innovation. Airborne data-collection missions like the one conducted during Hurricane Idalia play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of scientific research and environmental prediction while ensuring the safety of civilians and military personnel during extreme events.
The NHCI program involves multiple government, industry, and academic partner organizations, divided into five tasks and ten teams, each focusing on specific areas based on their expertise and available resources. VXS-1’s operational contributions, exemplified by the airdrop operation preceding Hurricane Idalia, align with the program’s goals.
The Marine Meteorology research team from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), based in Monterey, California, plays a significant role in Task 0. They utilize NRL’s Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System for Tropical Cyclones (COAMPS-TC) and a 11-member prediction ensemble system to produce detailed hindcasts of hurricanes. These hindcasts encompass information on tropical cyclone tracks, size, and intensity, contributing to atmospheric reforecasts and reanalyses. Additionally, COAMPS-TC provides real-time updates to other NHCI teams to ensure timely predictions and operational readiness.
The NHCI initiative aims to forecast coastal impacts during the 2022-2024 hurricane seasons, providing research-grade forecasts to enhance the preparedness of coastal communities for extreme weather events. Given the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events since 1980, which have incurred substantial costs, this initiative serves as a crucial step in addressing these challenges as indicated by the NOPP.
Source: Naval Research Laboratory