Fly With Hurricane Hunters as They Measure the Power of a Storm
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Fly With Hurricane Hunters as They Measure the Power of a Storm

February 11, 2020

No two storms are alike, so when we first
go into a storm, we don’t even know what we’re going to expect. We’re out there 8-10 hours. My stress level in a flight is typically high,
and I can say that’s probably a good thing, ’cause it keeps me sharp and on my toes. But you pretty much hang on and trust your
judgment and trust the judgment of the pilots, and hope for the best. This work is important for me because I believe it’s a crucial help to the American people in warning them on whether the storm is going to impact their lives and property. I started working for NOAA in 2007, and two years later, in 2009, I started flying into hurricanes. Hurricane hunters fly in and around the hurricane or tropical storm environment to gather critical information that helps predict where the storm is going, and what the intensity is going to be. The first storm I flew into was just east
of the East Coast of the U.S. Seeing the actual eyewall on the radar and knowing that we were going to go inside the center was… it was awesome. You get to look out the window and see these
thunderstorms right outside your window as you’re flying close to them and through them. So this is where I sit as a Flight Director. We have several monitors that we keep an eye on. Up front, we have the pilots that sit in the
left seat and the right seat, and we have a flight engineer here that sits in the middle. We have our lead scientist typically sit in
this seat, where they have a good view out the window, and they have some monitors to look at the data. And if we go a little further back, we have
here to the left is where the navigator sits. They make the radio calls, they determine
our flight path and call in for our locations. Back here is the galley. We have the restroom, the food, the kitchen
– most important part. We have a cooler back here to put our food,
and a microwave, and coffee, and that’s about it. We’re notified when to fly by the National
Hurricane Center, or by the Hurricane Research Division, typically 24 hours in advance. I need to look at several things to do a briefing for the entire crew to keep the airplane safe. We need to find out whether the storm is predicted
to be a rapid intensifier. We’re looking for any tornadoes, and other critical items about the structure of the storm that could pose a threat. If there’s any concerns about our mission,
we may choose another plan. As a flight director we are in charge of the
mission, and we direct the plane in and around the storm to get to the locations where we
need to gather that critical data. One of the biggest challenges, but also most fun for me, is hunting for the center of the storm, and that’s where the wind speed is
zero. It’s actually kind of more like an art, to
not make too many turns but fly over that exact center spot. Once I find the center of the storm, we mark it. The navigator marks the latitude and longitude; we also collect the highest wind speeds of the storm, which is typically in the eyewall, on our way in or out of the center. This station to the left is our dropsonde
operator. They’re listening for me to call when to release a dropsonde or a buoy, and they use these two tubes right here, and they flip this switch right here, and the bottom lever opens up, and the pressure differential between the outside air and the inside of
the airplane pretty much sucks the dropsonde out of the tube and out into the atmosphere. Once they’re released, a little parachute
is connected to it. It goes up, out into the air to keep the dropsonde
stable as it falls through the atmosphere, collecting wind speed and wind direction and
fall rate all the way down, until it hits the ocean’s surface. We have a person from the Hurricane Research
Division sitting here and processing those dropsondes that fall into the water. They gather the data, process it, package
it up, and send it off the airplane. They use that information to make their official
Hurricane Center forecast, which is what all the news stations and everyone grabs to find
out what’s going on with the storm. Growing up, I used to always ask the question, “why?” about everything. And there’s always more questions. We’ll never understand fully how these things develop. The lure of studying hurricanes for me is just being completely fascinated with how these storms develop, and I wanted to actually take a firsthand look and see for myself. In this next episode, a wildlife biologist
has the tense job of tracking grizzly bears. Thanks for watching and be sure to subscribe
for more episodes.

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  1. I wonder why do Americans build their houses with wood and not bricks and concrete as the rest of the world. Is like fun for them that their houses are been destroyed by tornados and hurricanes.

  2. This was very interesting. However, I feel that it just scratched the surface and left me wanting more information. I would really like to see a longer version that shows what it is like to fly into a hurricane and see the crew in action, what roles they play and what data they collect.

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