Hurricane Hunters fly through Irma as storm nears South Florida

LAKELAND, Fla. (WSVN) – 7News was granted an exclusive look inside Hurricane Irma as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Hunters head out on one last flight through the storm before it strikes South Florida.

According to NOAA Hurricane Hunters Commander Justin Kibbey, the aircraft plays a key role in relaying important information to the National Hurricane Center.

“The dropsondes that we drop send data constantly to the plane, and this data is going out to the models in the National Hurricane Center,” said Kibbey, “and they take this information, and they’re creating track forecasts and intensity forecasts.”

To retrieve this information, the aircraft will fly through the center of Irma.

“Heavy hitters that are going right through the center of the storm right into the eye, finding exactly where the center of the storm is, how far out the hurricane-force winds extend from the center and how far out the tropical force winds extend from the center,” said NOAA Hurricane Hunters Meteorologist Ian Sears.

Kibbey has flown during many hurricane seasons, and he said Irma is unlike anything he’s ever seen.

“In my past eight hurricane seasons, it’s the strongest Cat 5 I have ever flown. It has everything from a very strong eye wall to strong outer bands, lots of turbulence,” he said.

Each flight through the storm lasts about eight hours from the time the aircraft takes off, flies through the storm and comes back down.

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