Hurricane Hunters fly into Michael

(Photo Source: WLOX)
Updated: Oct. 9, 2018 at 10:52 PM EDT
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron came face-to-face with a dangerous hurricane on Tuesday by taking flight into the eye of Hurricane Michael.

It’s not exactly a first class flight, but the work that’s done here on the WC-130J is top notch. Because of the 53rd Reconnaissance Weather Squadron’s flight on Tuesday, more is now known about Hurricane Michael as it makes it way toward the Florida Panhandle.

“Our mission is to gather up information from inside the hurricane, give that information to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and follow all of that information into their models and into their forecasts. It helps to kind of fine tune where they think it’s going, how strong its going to get," said Capt. Kelsie Carpenter.

As the Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer, Carpenter observes and records all meteorological data collected. At flight level of 10,000 feet, he says wind speeds were measured at 104 knots or 120 miles an hour.

“So, it is a very strong storm that seems to be strengthening a little bit. So, it’s a good thing we’re out here and providing the most data we can," he said.

So, how do the Hurricane Hunters collect the data? It’s done with a tube like object known as a dropsonde, which is launched into the water, acting much like a weather balloon, but instead collecting information from the sky down.

“While it’s free falling, its sending all that information to my computer right here. And it’s sending back the pressure of the storm, wind speed, wind direction, humidity and the temperature," said MSgt. Troy Bickham, the flight’s loadmaster.

That’s valuable information which in turn can save lives. In fact, it wasn’t long after the crew landed that that the NHC upgraded Michael to a Category 3. The Hurricane Hunters' data already proving to be useful.

“Forecasters use this data to kind of make that cone that you see on television, make that more narrow, and get the appropriate people warned, so local officials can make their decisions about evacuations and that kind of thing, which can save lives and protects property," said Carpenter.

It’s what keeps them returning to the turbulent skies.

“It’s a job that a lot of people don’t get a chance to do. So, I enjoy it. I think a lot of us enjoy our jobs. And it just helps out the community," said Bickham.

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