Hurricane Hunters: Watching the Sky to Keep Us Safe

Hurricane Hunters: Watching the Sky to Keep Us Safe (Image 1)

     Hurricane season officially starts on June 1, and the Carolinas are no strangers to rain, wind, and waves hammering the coast.

     Although those areas are most at risk, predicting how these storms will affect inland areas is very important.  Winds and heavy rain can still lead to damage…or death.

     The Peeks Creek mudslide in Macon County, NC on September 16, 2004 was an example of inland rainfall leading to disaster.  At about 10 PM, the ground on Fishhawk Mountain turned into a fast-moving river of mud, wiping out anything in the way.

     Four people died; fifteen homes were destroyed. 
 
     This was a result of a one-two punch.

     The remnants of Hurricane Frances traveled along the North Carolina/Tennessee border in early September, dropping six to twelve inches of rain in the mountains.

     The remnants of Hurricane Ivan took a very similar path just ten days later with another six to ten inches of rain, setting the stage for disaster.

     Just the type of disaster that National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb is worried about.

     “In inland areas like Greenville, South Carolina, where I’ve got family, I worry about wind and water.  But the inland hazard that has taken the most lives…people have died many, many times in the past, is due to inland flooding caused by heavy rains.”

     Although tropical systems can form thousands of miles away from where we live in the western Carolinas, our forecasts are still helped by “hurricane hunter” aircraft, such as the C-130 that keeps a close eye on the storms.

     How close?  It flies right through tropical storms and hurricanes at an elevation of 10,000 feet…collecting data from inside.

     A separate, Gulfstream jet also flies…gathering data from just outside of storms at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet.  This is higher than the typical cruising altitude of most jet aircraft.

     That collected data not only provides live updates on what storms are doing…that data goes into the computer models that are used to forecast where the storm are going and how strong they’ll be.  This leads to more accurate forecasts and warnings for you.

     The pilots who fly these missions are very aware of their role in your safety. 

Lieutenant Commander Jason Mansour is a pilot for the Gulfstream jet, and has flown around storms as devastating to the United States as 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

     “We’re flying a mission…we say hey, we have friends, we have family up there, and we want to do the best job that we can to get them as protected and safe as possible through accurate forecasts.”

    Major Ivan Deroche is on of the pilots for the fleet of ten C-130s that regularly fly through tropical systems.

     “The most rewarding thing for me is the advance warning that people gain…and they can make better decisions on how to protect their families.”

     It’s a total team effort to make sure we are prepared with the most accurate and timely information to get warnings out.

     Click here for more information on the Hurricane Hunters.

     For the latest on the NOAA/National Hurricane Center’s latest hurricane season outlook, click here.

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