NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
NOAA Aircraft Operations Center
NOAA AMOL – Hurricane Research Division
Radio from aircraft:
"John, how far north are we going to be going on the, uh, northbound track?"
"108 miles north of the eye"
"Ok – great."
The job of a hurricane hunter is not for the faint at heart. These brave men and women must fly straight into one of the most destructive forces in nature.
Hurricanes are born over the open ocean, and while satellites can track their movement, meteorologists and researchers need to sample the storms directly to get the most accurate information about them.
NOAA's hurricane hunter fleet includes two P-3 turboprop aircraft as well as a Gulfstream IV jet. The P-3s fly through the storm, encountering devastating winds that can be over 150 miles per hour. The jet can fly higher than the turboprops, gathering data from the upper atmosphere.
Both planes have high tech equipment on board to get the job done, like radar and fixed probes that measure particles in the air.
Scientists also deploy dropwindsondes, which parachute down through the hurricane to the ocean surface, sending back data on pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind.
These measurements can help us understand the structure of a storm and the winds that are steering it. The data is used in computer models that help forecasters predict how intense the hurricane will be, and where and when it will strike land.
Hurricane hunters take a literal look into the eye of a monster formed by nature. Their courage helps further science, which saves lives.