WSVN — Whether it is a Category one or five, there is a group of people who’s job it is to head directly into the eye of a storm. 7’s Belkys Nerey has more on these Hurricane Hunters.
They are the men and women who fly into the most turbulent skies. Directly into the eyes of monster storms.
They are the Hurricane Hunters.
Lt. Col. Keith Gibson, Hurricane Hunters: “We have to look at the least of severe weather and have to pick our way through it.”
On their sky-high missions, they encounter high winds, hail, even tornadoes.
Lt. Col. Keith Gibson: “Everything you are concerned about down here pretty much happens up there.”
Despite the ugly weather, it is a thing of beauty.
Lt. Col. Keith Gibson: “You see the towering clouds off and the blue skies. You want to see a bunch of people get their faces in the window and cameras and things. That stadium effect that you see in pictures.”
But make no mistake, the raw power of these systems create bumpy rides for the crew.
Lt. Col. Keith Gibson: “Sometimes it’s those systems that are just developing. Those can actually be the worst ride.”
And when they pierce the eye, the real work begins.
Hurricane Hunter Pineda: “This is the transmitter here that sends all the data back to the aircraft.”
Sensors called Drop Sondes in cardboard tubes are dropped into the eyewall of a storm, measuring everything from wind speed to barometric pressure.
Pineda: “This station is used to transmit the information that we gain.”
The data is sent back in real time to scientists at the National Hurricane Center who use it to make their forecasts on a storm’s strength and track.
Rick Knabb, Director National Hurricane Center: “The Airforce C-130 data gets bounced off the satellite, directly into the lap of the hurricane specialists and can directly influence what we say the current intensity and size of the hurricane is.”
But it’s not just giant, sturdy Military C-130’s that fly into the storms. This smaller, faster hurricane hunter travels around the outer edges of storms.
Daniel Brown, Senior Hurricane Specialist: “The NOAA G-4 jet samples the environment around the hurricane. That information goes into our computer models that then provide better forecasts when they have this additional data.”
Lt. Com. Jason Mansour, Hurricane Hunter: “We cover 3,600 miles of range on the aircraft. We cover some serious ground.
Crew Member: “This is where our onboard flight meteorologist sits.”
For the crew members, it’s a long day. It’s extremely dangerous.
And sometimes, it’s personal.
Lt. Com. Jason Mansour: “It was Hurricane Sandy, I was born in Bronx, New York and I remember flying that storm a day or two away from landfall. I had family and friends about to be impacted severely by this storm.”
But they say it’s also worth it, knowing they are risking their lives in hopes of helping others.
Lt. Com. Jason Mansour: “It is kind of surreal knowing the devastation that is down below us.”