‘Not a storm to mess with’: Hurricane Hunters make final flight before Florence hits

Polk County

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Hunters are known for flying directly into danger, and into the path of storms like Hurricane Florence.

NOAA Hurricane Hunter crews have flown 11 missions into Florence, with crews departing Wednesday on their last planned flight until the storm hits.

News Channel 8 stopped by their home base at the Lakeland Linder Airport to get a behind the scenes look before takeoff.

Flight Director Richard Henning said it wasn’t looking good as his crew landed and the next crew prepared for takeoff.

“This is definitely a large one and it’s getting bigger. That’s a big piece of bad news,” Henning said.

Gonzo, NOAA’s Gulf Stream Four, flies up and around the storm to narrow down the intensity and track. News Channel 8 went inside of Gonzo, a jet that been gutted and filled with weather equipment to create a weather station in the air.

“Our job on this particular mission was to fly two rings around, over top of the storm. One at about 3 degrees out from the center of the storm and one really close, almost at about 100 nautical miles to the center of the storm itself,” NOAA Pilot David Cowan said. “We’re flying from 8 to 9 hours and we’re covering 3,600 nautical miles worth of distance. That’s basically like flying from one end of the U.S. to the other.”

All of the crew members agreed Florence looks unlike any storm they have ever seen and could stack up to be of the worst storms in decades.

“The radius of the hurricane-force winds is growing which is not good news for the coast. That actually makes storm surge more of a problem. What hurts a storm like this, is wind shear. And we didn’t see any wind shear. So that’s more bad news. In fact, it has very good, well-defined outflow, with no wind shear. That means that it’s going to intensify.” Henning said. “They need to get out. Anyone who lives along the immediate coast, this is not a storm to mess with.”

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