Every disaster movie has a crew of fearless, impossibly dedicated scientists. And that crew is willing to do whatever it takes to keep others out of harm’s way, even if that means putting their own lives on the line. Believe it or not, those people also exist in real life.
Typically, storm chasers are scientists who study weather and literally chase down tornadoes and hurricanes in an effort to better understand how they work. In doing so, tornado and hurricane watches and warnings are made more effective. This allows those in the path of these devastating storms to better protect themselves and their families.
One such group of storm chasers is called the NOAA Hurricane Hunters. For those curious, NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Hurricane Hunters’ most recent mission? Flying into the eye of Hurricane Ian, which is currently churning its way toward the west coast of Florida. On Monday, Lt. Cmdr. Rob Mitchell and his crew journeyed through the rapidly intensifying storm.
Aiding in the Watch for Hurricane Ian Posed a Difficult Challenge
Each Hurricane Hunter team includes pilots, flight engineers, a navigator, a flight director, a data system operator, and an operator responsible for deploying the necessary sensors into the storm.
They don’t avoid severe weather, as a normal flight crew would. Instead, they hunt it down, flying directly into the eye of the storm to collect life-saving data for hurricane watches and warnings. The data is then sent to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for analysis.
Now, Hurricane Hunter aircrafts are designed to withstand enormous amounts of turbulence. But that doesn’t make it a smooth ride for the crew. And Hurricane Ian posed an especially difficult challenge, as its eye was far smaller than a typical hurricane.
“That does mean that the energy is oftentimes concentrated [in the eye wall],” Lt. Cmdr. Mitchell explained to Fox Weather. “[That] can create for a rougher ride compared to an eye that might be 20 or 30 miles in diameter.”
“So, that gives us pause,” he continued. “That makes us fly extra cautious. [It also] makes our job harder to find the center and have the time to maneuver inside that eye when the eye is so small.”
Unbelievably, Mitchell and his crew were in the aircraft during this interview. According to the crew leader, the Hurricane Hunters have flown more than 120 hours in the last month. On Monday alone, they flew more than 5 hours in the storm, collecting data from every quadrant.
“Especially as this storm is headed towards our hometown, we’re highly motivated to continue flying,” Mitchell explained. “[We’re] collecting all the data and forming those models and trying to get the best track forecast, so those hurricane watches and warnings can go out to our communities.”