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Flying into the eye of Hurricane Florence

September 13, 2018
Storm trackers from the Air Force Reserve fly through the eye of Hurricane Florence.

A lot of the most precise data that is used to forecast hurricanes is gathered by brave men and women who fly directly into the storm.

WRAL’s Mandy Mitchell flew through the eye of Hurricane Florence Wednesday with storm trackers from the Air Force Reserve.

The 12-hour flight, which began about 5 a.m. at Hilton Head International Airport, was surprisingly smooth. The pilot explained that stronger storms generate less turbulence. He likened it to a spinning top -- when it’s spinning at full speed, a top’s movement is smooth. It gets wobbly when it slows.

The Hurricane Hunters, as the pilots are called, don’t take the views for granted, but their mission is serious. They fly into a dangerous situation to try to help save lives.

“The joy I get out of it is helping the population stay out of the way of these storms. You know we go into them so they can get all of the information they need to evacuate,” Lt. Col Jerry Ruthland said.

The crew is made up of multiple pilots and a meteorologist who consistently monitors the data being collected. That data comes right from the surface of the water. Several sensors, or “drop-sonds,” are released from the plane during the flight to serve as a kind of weather balloon providing vital information.

“It’s extremely important, because it’s like having boots on teh ground. Satellites can only do so much, they can see top down because of the cloud cover and all of the other things involved. You may not get all the real data,” said aerial reconnaissance weather officer Tobi Baker.

The crew, from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, crossed the eye four times Wednesday, dropping instruments into the storm that measure air pressure, water temperature and wind speed -- crucial information that can help forecasters get a more accurate picture of where the storm is going to go and how strong it will be.

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