The Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew through Hurricane Ian’s eye while collecting data as the storm made its historic landfall on Sept. 28, and mission, the crew captured footage that is absolutely haunting.
To Floridians, Ian is a deadly force causing devastating flooding and destruction. But the eye shows a strange juxtaposition. Flying on a WC-130J Hercules at a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet, a team of five found themselves in the center of the rotation with bright blue skies, sunshine, and large, unassuming white clouds.
Hurricanes move in a circular rotation as they make their way over land and water. At the center is the eye, which usually spans about 20 to 40 miles in diameter. According to the Miami Herald, Ian’s eyewall is 40 miles.
The commander of the mission spoke with Fox News following the flight. And he shared that while the eye was an eerie calm, navigating the storm was terrifying and life-changing.
The Mission Commander Said Hurricane Ian was a ‘Life-Changer’
Maj. Kendall Dunn took off from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi to run a standard hurricane mission, which usually includes several pass-throughs. In this case, the first three went as planned. But when they took their fourth pass, the situation became serious.
“We flew into it, 10,000 feet and the first couple passes into the storm, standard stuff for us Hurricane Hunters, seeing 100 mile an hour winds or so,” he shared.
“But the third and fourth pass, they were life changers,” Dunn continued. “Honestly … we were doing what we need to do just to keep the airplane airborne, keep it right side up. It was pretty intense. The eyewall was something I’ve never seen. The amount of mesocyclones and tornadoes inside the wall. It was an absolute mess.”
Dunn is a veteran Hurricane Hunter who works through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force Reserve to map the surface wind environment below the Hercules and send enhanced surface wind information back to land. And while he’s experienced many dangerous storms during his career, he said it’s hard to explain just “how big of a deal [Ian] is.”
“It’s the strongest storm I’ve ever been in,” he emphasized.
The commander shared that his aircraft suffered visible damage from the mission as the storm began “rapidly intensifying.” And the lighting and hail inside the storm were unimaginable.
“The hail itself was unbelievable,” he continued. “To me, it sounded like rocks being poured out of a dump truck. We had paint peeling off the aircraft when we got back. “It was intense.”
Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday, September 28, and it brought near Cat 5 winds and two million power outages. Dunn asks people who live in the affected areas and didn’t heed Gov. Desantis’ warning to evacuate to take serious precautions as the storm rages.
“If you are in any of those counties, it’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” he said. “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm.”