Another day on the job, in the eye of a hurricane


Hurricanes can be monstrous, terrifying things to live through. Garrett Black flies through them for a living and likes it.

Last year, for instance, Black flew through Hurricane Matthew, which reached the maximum category five strength, to measure its fury as the storm struck the Caribbean and the southeast US coast.

“It’s a lot like a roller coaster ride. It’s exciting,” Black, a meteorologist, told foreign media agencies Friday at a hurricane awareness presentation at an airport near Miami.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November 30.

Garrett flies with four other crew members on an Air Force WC-130J, a lumbering gray prop plane affectionately called a Hurricane Hunter.

Flying at 10,000 feet, the team’s mission is to measure the strength of a hurricane and which way it is headed, among other things.

“If it’s close to the coastline, we’ll go through many different times. It gets really bumpy. The turbulence could be anything from 1 to 10,” Black added.

“Sometimes it is fine and you really don’t feel anything, and sometimes it will bump you around quite a bit.”

Part of the team’s job is to release in different areas of the hurricane small cylinders known as dropsondes.

Equipped with a small parachute, they fall through the whirling madness of the storm and measure temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, speed and direction of the hurricane.

The gadget has a transmitter to send this data back to the plane, which then passes it on to the National Hurricane Center.

The plane releases the dropsondes as it flies through what is called the eyewall of the hurricane — the area just outside the eye and the spot where the fiercest winds and rainfall are. It also drops them in the eye itself.

Last year with Hurricane Matthew, winds hit a stunning 270 kilometers per hour (170 mph) although Black’s team flew in later when the storm was downgraded somewhat.

“Usually, I’m not too nervous to be honest with you. We train a great amount of time. We are very prepared. We never had an accident during a storm,” said Black.

The data that the hurricane hunters planes send can save lives.

“You would think … we wouldn’t need to have planes going into the hurricanes if satellites could do it,” said John Cangialoso, a meteorologist with the NHC.

But satellites only give an estimate of a hurricane’s strength and render a picture of what it looks like, he added.

“In order to really understand how strong it is, the only way it’s actually to get in it and collect data,” Cangialoso said.