First off, I hope everyone who stayed behind in the path of Hurricane Ike is OK this morning. Second, we know what we knew about Ike due in part to the guys, gals and tech shown in these storm chaser photographs. The photo above shows a "Smurf," or the Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer, which has adorned the wings of hurricane hunting WC-130J aircraft since 2007. The device, and the 24/7 missions run by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, have helped increase the National Hurricane Center's accuracy rate by 30%.
The Smurf works by measuring wind speed at the surface of the ocean, and then combines that information with rainfall rates from within the storm system (in case you didn't know, these guys fly into the hurricanes we flee from). As the incredible 100+ mph winds whip around the outside of the plane, they create foam, which the Smurf sniffs for microwave radiation. From that radiation, the storm chasers can calculate wind speed. It sure beats the hell out of the Loftus Method, which involves a wet finger, an open window, and a steady wind. Accuracy rate? Slightly less than the Smurf. Slightly. [CNET]