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Atmosphere Academy: A Ride with Hurricane Hunters


We know that the hurricane hunters are some of the most skilled and experienced pilots in the world. But do they ever take visitors along for the ride?

After all, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sight of the big C-130 Hercules taking off, and the view is even more impressive at flight level. From here, you can see the inner workings of the largest storms on Earth. It’s a job the hurricane hunters don’t take lightly.

Using sophisticated sensing instruments called dropsondes, hurricane hunters record the latest air pressure and wind speed observations in tropical systems. Needless to say, their flights are not without risk. Flying at an altitude as low as a few thousand feet, they complete multiple passes in what is referred to as an alpha pattern.

Their goal is to get an exact fix on the center of the storm, and transmit that data to the National Hurricane Center. If forecast models are going to accurately forecast where a storm is headed, they have to know first where the storm is located now. As you may expect, these flights are not for casual passengers.

Usually, only qualified Air Force reserve personnel are allowed on board. But every now and then, members of the media are invited to come along for the ride to observe. And that’s the key- just to observe. The qualified pilots who fly these missions can run things just fine on their own. But when they make it back to shore, the job of forecasting the hurricane becomes a team effort for scientists in all fields.

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videoHurricane season may be winding down, but the hurricane hunters are always on stand-by. Meteorologist Jerry Jackson has more in the Atmosphere Academy.

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