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As Dorian Approaches, It's All Hands On Deck For NOAA's Hurricane Hunters

Aug 30, 2019

It’s been an all hands on deck situation for Hurricane Hunter crews since Dorian became a threat in the Caribbean.

These air crews fly into the storm to gather data they can share instantly with the National Hurricane Center and other weather experts.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland hosts three Hurricane Hunters.

This P-3 Orion aircraft is nicknamed "Miss Piggy," after the Muppets character. Another one of NOAA's P-3's is called "Kermit." These planes fly through the eye of hurricanes.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media

RELATED: In The Eye of Hurricane Dorian

There are two P-3 Orion aircraft, nicknamed after the Muppets characters “Kermit” and “Miss Piggy.” These planes fly into the eye of storms, while the Gulfstream-IV jet, known as “Gonzo,” flies above and around them.

Hurricane Hunters have gone out many times a day all week, typically for 8-10 hour flights, as Dorian moves closer to Florida.

RELATED: NOAA's Hurricane Hunters Have New Home In Lakeland

Lt. Kevin Doremus was preparing to get some much-needed rest Friday afternoon after he flew “Kermit” right through the eye of Hurricane Dorian.

"It’s kind of like flying through a bathtub,” he described. “It's a lot of rain, so your windshield turns into a big sheet of water and you just push through it because you know on the other side there's going to be clear air in the eye."

A crew gets off a Hurricane Hunter plane Friday afternoon after an 8-hour flight through Dorian. A few hours later that same plane headed back toward the storm with a different crew.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media

The Hurricane Hunters gather critical information about how the storm is forming to help forecasters predict its strength and direction. Lt. Commander Patrick Didier said as with most storms, Dorian has been changing dramatically each day.

“Even on different passes, so we did three passes today through the storm and on each one it was significantly different, so it’s kind of interesting how these things are almost like living things, they change just over the course of a few hours,” he said.

RELATED: Preparing For Hurricane Dorian

Crews will continue to make trips out over the water until Dorian is about to make landfall. Then they let radar systems on the ground take over. Didier said a major reason for that is safety.

“Storms tend to act very unpredictably when they interact with a land mass, you get a lot of embedded tornadoes, a higher degree of thunderstorms, so that nice, kind of stable oceanic environment we’re used to kind of goes out the window when it moves over land,” he explained.

This forecasting tool, known as a dropsonde, is deployed from an aircraft and continuously transmits weather data as it falls into the water.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media

Doremus added it also isn’t safe to deploy one of the aircraft’s main forecasting tools, little tubes called dropsondes. These biodegradable instruments continuously transmit measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed as they fall toward the sea.

“Don't think your neighbors would appreciate if that lands in their backyard, so we don't launch those over land,” he said.

With Dorian potentially impacting Central Florida, Doremus said the Hurricane Hunter planes will likely be evacuated to another location, possibly New Orleans.

That protects them from damage and allows crews to continue flying if Dorian ends up moving back over water.