BALTIMOER (WJZ) — It can be the most powerful weather on the planet, and as spring heads toward summer, the threat of hurricanes increases.
That means preparing now.
People are constantly warned to get out of the way of hurricanes. It’s just the opposite for hurricane hunters, even though few natural forces pack such lethal potential.
Fortunately, satellites often provide the first warning signs. But a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jet gets closer, flying at 45,000 feet.
“So it gives a good driving force of the upper level winds that actually drive a hurricane, so we get a better sense of where a hurricane may make landfall,” says Lt. JG Billy Bonner, a NOAA hurricane hunter.
But to get really close, NOAA flies a converted submarine chaser right through towering thunderheads that swirl around a hurricane’s eye.
“There was some nerves,” says the pilot. “People would be lying to you if they say there weren’t some nerves.”
“Closest thing I can relate it to, maybe old wooden roller coaster styles,” says Todd Richards, another hurricane hunter. “So bumpy, shaky and then the ups and downs.”
But it isn’t a thrill ride. This is just what it takes to get where the science is.
Using instrument-packed drop tubes, “they’re sending up information as far as where they’re going, so they’re GPS-tracked,” Bonner says. “We get wind speed and wind direction. We get temperature, humidity, anything you might want to understand about the storm.”
Which goes into the computer modeling at the National Hurricane Center in Florida.
“To tell us how big the storm is, where the storm is located and also how strong the storm is, which helps me in my forecasting,” says Daniel Brown, a National Hurricane Center specialist.
All of which provides warning to save lives on land, and not something to be taken lightly in the air.
“But still, it’s almost humbling sometimes,” Richards says. “You actually get the real feel of what’s going on.”