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Conversation with a hurricane hunter

Posted at 9:07 PM, Aug 26, 2020

Over the past week or so, we’ve heard Rob talk about “hurricane hunters.” These are people who fly in and out of storms tracking them and collecting data.

Today, Andrew Clay caught up with Nick Underwood, he’s a NOAA aerospace engineer, to learn more about Laura and these missions.

Underwood took off at 5 a.m. Wednesday and landed at about 1:15 p.m. Wednesday.

When they flew in the storm Tuesday, it was a Cat 1, and then a Cat 2, and at the tail end of Wednesday’s mission it was upgraded to a Cat 4, he said.

Rapidly intensifying storms can be more dynamic, so they take extra precautions for those, he said.

Underwood told us about dropsondes, which the hunters drop throughout the hurricane to collect data for meterologists to use in crafting their forecasts.

Underwood has been chasing storms for four years, and Laura stands out as ramping up fairly quickly, he said.

Once you’ve flown one storm, they’re all different, but you kind of get used to the turbulence, he said. His first flight through a hurricane was Matthew in 2016, and he got pretty sick. But being up there gives you a level of respect for them, and you think about the people on the ground who will experience the storm, he said.

Underwood’s first flight into the storm started before it was even named, he said. The hunters got nine hurricane penetrations, he said. As the storm develops, the views change, he said.

When Laura was still south of Hispanola, there was a lot of lightning and not much organization. Today, they saw the “stadium effect” inside the eye.

The preflight starts about 2 hours before takeoff, with prepping the aircraft and the dropsondes, and after takeoff it usually takes an hour or so to get to the storm, he explains. There’s a predetermined pattern to fly, with the focus of the flight to collect as much data as possible for the NWS to use for forecasts.