The job of a hurricane hunter is not for the faint of heart. This brave crew 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 turbo prop 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.
RICHARD HENNING (Flight Director, NOAA Hurricane Hunters):
Well, the best way I could describe it is it's sort of like riding a roller coaster through a car wash because you can't see anything out the windows in the eyewall. It's it's just like a car wash. It actually even in the middle of the day gets dark inside the airplane. It's raining so hard.
The jet can fly higher than the turboprops, gathering data from higher in the 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 dropsondes 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.
We will fly twice a day. This airplane will just go day, night, day, night, day, night for six days in a row. And the missions last anywhere between eight and nine hours.
Hurricane hunters take a literal look into the eye of a monster formed by nature. Their courage helps further science and save lives.