Kudos to the Hurricane Hunters

Published Sep 27, 2017 at 4:00pm

One often-overlooked group that braves the wicked elements to ensure the rest of us are safe during storms deserves accolades.

That would be the Hurricane Hunters, the fleet of pilots, scientists and technicians from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Hurricane Hunters run counter to logic: They race to the danger as others flee it. NOAA’s crews fly into the heart of the storm and over it from a higher altitude.

The crew dissects the guts of the storm through the use of Doppler radar and by dropping probes into the eye of the storm. The data they gather is then funneled to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which uses it to report the storm’s specifics and projected track. And that, in turn, provides the basis for preparation maneuvers, such as issuing evacuation orders, mobilizing resources and opening shelters.

A Reuters reporter learned the same thing after accompanying a different group also known as the Hurricane Hunters, he Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Reuters’ report also provided a sense of what the crew experiences, and why this work is important.

Lt. Col. Jim Hitterman, a veteran of 40-plus hurricanes over the past two decades, described flying into the storm as if “you’re driving through (a) car wash, a bunch of gorillas start jumping on top of your car.” Hitterman said sometimes storm turbulence can shake an airplane so violently that he couldn’t see his instrument panel.

Recently U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, got a rare outsider’s look at what this means when he flew with the crew of “42,” one of NOAA’s WP-3D Orion aircraft that patrolled Irma for days at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. as it headed for Florida.

“These people are heroes,” an impressed Congressman Ross said upon returning from his flight with the Lakeland-based Hurricane Hunters. “This work saves lives.”

Indeed they are, and indeed it does.