The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill late Wednesday requiring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have reliable backups available for its Hurricane Hunter aircraft.
The provision, sought by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), comes in the wake of an incident last year when one of the jets NOAA was using to gather hurricane measurements was forced to land for emergency repairs during Hurricane Hermine. The Gulfstream G-IV was grounded for several days, forcing NOAA to scramble to find a temporary replacement.
“When it comes to protecting lives and property, we can’t afford to go without Hurricane Hunters,” Nelson said following the passage of the measure. “We need to have a backup plan in place, and I’m hopeful we’ll have one in time for hurricane season.”
NOAA maintains a fleet of three aircraft currently based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The planes are designed to fly in and around hurricanes and tropical storms, collecting data used to track and measure the intensity of these powerful storms.
NOAA’s current fleet of Hurricane Hunters include two P3 propeller aircraft, known as Miss Piggy and Kermit, that fly into storms, but only one Gulfstream jet, known as Gonzo, capable of reaching altitudes high enough to fly above storms.
The measurements taken by Hurricane Hunters are essential to weather forecasters. On May 1, the Hurricane Hunter fleet is slated to move from Tampa to the Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport.
Nelson’s Hurricane Hunter provision was included in a broader weather bill (HR 353). The legislation now goes to the House for consideration.