They're called "storm warriors"…the men and women known as "hurricane hunters".
And whenever a tropical storm or hurricane threatens the U.S. mainland, they risk their lives to save ours.
Storm hunters fly into the middle of a storm ... To gather life-saving information that is used to predict when and where a hurricane will make landfall.
"I always kind of describe it as Mother Nature occasionally takes the plane away from you, but she always gives it back." says Captain Brian Taggart, a member of the crew on the “Skyhopper” P-3 Orion hurricane hunter plane.
Flying at about two hundred and thirty miles an hour, the crew of the “Skyhopper” penetrates the eye of the hurricane, retrieving information 120 times each minute.
They use a piece of equipment called a dropwinsonde. It is probably one of the most important scientific devices on the aircraft, and probably the most important to determine what a hurricane's going to do as far as forecasting it.
Twenty to thirty dropwinsondes are lowered into the storm at various locations, and report back information such as wind speed, temperature, and barometric pressure.
Flight director and meteorologist Barry Damiano says "We fly into it, our altitudes range from 1,500 ft. Up to 15,000 ft, usually for the category 3, 4, 5 hurricanes we're at ten thousand feet"
Typical hurricane hunter flights cover twelve hundred miles, take nine hours and use about nine thousand gallons of fuel… but NOAA doesn't chase these storms alone.
Bill Proenza, the southern division director of the National Weather Service says "We have a partnership with the air force at Keesler Air Force Base. They have ten aircraft and twenty crews in Southern Mississippi, and they're able to fly anywhere. In addition, NOAA, the parent agency of the National Weather Service has two p-3's out of Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base which we send out in addition, and so we kind of share the responsibility that way."
And while the crew insists the flights are safe, flying into hurricanes requires a lot of trust and nerves of steel.
The flight director says: "So much rain is hitting the windshield that you can't even communicate, you can barely yell, the instrument panel is a blur just from going through the turbulence of the feeder bands, and your airspeed is going plus or minus 30 knots"
But the information retrieved is *vital* for tracking the storm.
National Weather Service officials say "The hurricane hunter provides some very, very key information for us and the forecaster, in real time we get the latest information on the condition of the storm that helps us with our models and our forecasting and our warnings"
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