While millions face evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Dorian, some servicemen and servicewomen called Hurricane Hunters are flying planes directly into this record-breaking storm.
It may sound crazy, but they do it so we can have the most accurate, up-to-date information on hurricanes.
“We are trying to save lives and reduce the impact from evacuations,” weather reconnaissance officer Maj. Jeremy DeHart explains. “Everyone is kind of familiar with the cone of uncertainty and the data that we send them reduces that cone up to 20%. So the more often we fly into it, the more accurate the forecast will be. That is ultimately what we are doing.”
“What I see when I’m out in the plane flying is a direct impact that we are able to make to help people protect themselves, and their loved ones, and their possessions,” Maj. Christopher Dyke, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer with the US Air Force Reserve, told CNN.
Hurricane Dorian, the strongest to ever hit the Bahamas, has had a unique path, and the data the Hurricane Hunters have collected from inside the storm has been invaluable.
Using a device called a dropsonde, they can collect information including atmospheric pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Changes in these numbers can help forecasters at the NHC determine whether the storm is strengthening, shifting direction, or even changing in size or shape.
“When we were zigzagging through the storm, we would cross over the Bahamas, and you could see land under us,” said Victoria Kennedy, a CNN producer who was on one of these flights. “It was such an eerie feeling knowing the storm was still sitting over them causing damage. Knowing people below us need help. Those thoughts run through your mind. It’s such an eerie feeling.”
The crew on board deals with many facets of the storm. Taking measurements for the NHC is important, but so is the safety of all those aboard the hurricane hunter plane. Combat Systems Operators are trained to monitor the radar during the flight to watch out for tornadoes that could impact those on board.
For the first time in history, an all-female, 3-pilot crew flew a NOAA reconnaissance mission into Dorian a few days ago. Dyke points out that for many service members, hurricane hunting is a part-time job.
He says about half of hurricane hunters are “citizen airmen” who have regular civilian lives but for two weeks a year carry out their reserve duty.
News Producer Victoria Kennedy contributed to this report.