A journey into Hurricane Dorian with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters

Tracking the Tropics

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Hurricane Dorian still poses a significant threat to the southeastern United States  – and that means the work is not done for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters based out of Lakeland Linder Airport.

NOAA flight crews have been flying into Hurricane Dorian for more than a week now. These reconnaissance missions gather critical information on the current state of the storm.

“We started tracking Dorian southeast of Barbados. It was a mess! You could barely find a center but we did watch that steady intensification” said Flight Director Jack Parrish. “We were in it just as it became a hurricane northeast of Puerto Rico and then it of course became that nightmare storm for the Bahamas.”

Flight meteorologists released dropsondes to investigate the structure of the storm below. These probes detect atmospheric conditions as they fall down through the storm – something like a reverse weather balloon. This data is sent directly to the National Hurricane Center and is ingested into weather forecast models – significantly improving their accuracy.

The Hurricane Hunters fly a special grid pattern through the storm featuring several bumpy – sometimes really bumpy – trips through the eyewall and into the calm eye. Finding the exact center of the storm helps provide insight into where it could be headed next.

“Collecting as much data, placing as many expendables as we feel necessary to pinpoint better data, better modeling and give everybody a better idea of how strong the storm is and where it is heading” said NOAA Hurricane Hunter Michael McAlister. The NOAA Hurricane Hunters have been flying up to 10 hour missions into Dorian twice daily – for the last 10 days. “It’s pretty grueling but we get plenty of rest and exercise flying with some of the best aviators in the world and the best professionals in the world makes it real easy.”

Even after four decades of tracking hurricanes for Flight Director Jack Parrish, no storm – and no forecast are the same. “I’ve been doing this since 1980 – this is my 40th hurricane season. I’ve been through the eye of a storm I think now about 620 times and every one of them is unique.”

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