August 29, 2011

Hurricane Hunters

A look at these storm chasers.

Shelby: When a hurricane is heading your way, the goal is to find a safe place away from the storm. But for some scientists, their job is to do the exact opposite. Check it out.

During a hurricane, while this is the situation on the ground, the hurricane hunters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, are up in the air as part of the Air Force Reserve, flying into the center of the storm every day.

“To get into the eye, we basically cut a straight path.”

Shelby: This team was flying into Irene while she was still off the Florida coast. The plane criss-crossed the eye of the storm five times as scientists dropped these tubes into the clouds. The tubes measure pressure, humidity and wind as they fall down to the ocean, giving a snapshot of a vertical slice of the hurricane.

“We’re really able to get a nice picture of what the structure of the storm looks like and that’s really important for knowing what’s going to happen in the future in terms of intensity of the storm.”

Shelby: And the storms can get very intense, both on and above ground.

“Flying into the eye is very humbling, really, you see the power of nature. We can get wind speeds of 120 or 130 knots or even higher at times.”

Shelby: So, why do such dangerous work?

“What we collect today makes a decision for the forecasters which then affects emergency management, who then decides to evacuate, or don’t evacuate. Because no matter what we do here, the storm is still going to do what it’s going to do.

Shelby: When you are watching the weather report on TV, those meteorologists rely on the data these hurricane hunters gather to make their forecasts, as do mayors, governors and emergency management agencies that make the decisions to evacuate citizens.

For the 4-1-1 on all things hurricane, check out our hurricane headquarters at


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