TAMPA, Fla.-- Hurricane season begins June 1st and there are a number of people, besides meteorologists, who track the storms. But there's a team of what some might call "daredevils" taking to the sky to fly through even the strongest of storms, all in the name of science and safety.
The job of the Hurricane Hunters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is to fly through the nerve center of hurricanes.
Commander Carl Newman, a pilot for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters, told WINK News this Morning Meteorologist Brian Monahan, "We do a little bit of, for lack of a better word, some crazy things in the storm."
But the crazy things they do inside a storm ultimately broaden our understanding of the storms and improve forecasts. Satellites, also an important forecasting tool, have limitations. The Hurricane Hunters need to fill the gaps. That's the job of the 90 staff members, including Dr. Jim McFadden.
"Measurements are key to good forecasts," says McFadden. "You can't do anything without good measurements and this is where you get them."
One of the 13 planes that fly into the storms, Kermit, is full of gadgets and gizmos to get that data. Measurements collected include temperature, pressure, and relative humidity. The goal is to improve forecast models like the ones our WINK News Meteorology team uses in Hurricane Central. Those models need the best possible information about a hurricane so our meteorologists can accurately predict a storm's path and keep your family safe.
That's why pilots like Commander Carl Newman fly through the storm in the first place. However, he flies at higher altitudes, where the environment is more predictable. He relies on his on-board radars and other instruments to safely navigate. And something you may not know: his flights are usually a lot like uncomfortable flying, nothing more.
"Everybody flies through hurricane force winds. Mom, dad, all the kids, they get into an airliner and they go fly into hurricane force winds we call the Jet Stream," Commander Carl Newman told WINK.
And the hurricane hunters have a pre-flight procedure very similar to the one you might have on your next flight. Commander Newman walks us through a quick pre-flight check.
"Seat belts on, you get all the gear strapped in. You make sure everyone is locked down, nothing is going to fly around."
The most comfortable flights are often in the biggest of storms. But the still-developing storms, like 1999's Irene, are a different story.
"That storm was only a Category 1 storm, but it was one of the most painful flights that year," Commander Newman tells WINK.
Even with highly-skilled pilots, engineers and scientists on board, occasionally missions become more memorable than others but for all the wrong reasons.
"We got out there and man, I'm telling you, I thought it was all over," says Dr. Jim McFadden. "We're into the eye and we're going down."
1989's Hurricane Hugo, which pummeled Charleston, South Carolina, was one of those storms. After some scary moments, the Hurricane Hunters finally recovered and were escorted back to their base.
Despite the close calls and the long hours, the crew tells WINK News their job is worth the risk because the information they gather is so important for your safety.