Government scientists know what it’s like to look a hurricane in the eye. They have been doing it through countless storms by flying hurricane hunter planes and placing sensors to measure the strength of the hurricane.
But for some members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Ian was the harshest hurricane flight they have ever experienced.
it made landfall in southwestern Florida as a major Category 4 hurricane, just shy of Category 5, as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the US.
The rides are often bumpy and noisy. But there is a place where not even combat-proven planes and vomit-proof scientists can go. The boundary layer is at 3000 feet where the air and ocean meet, which is considered a violently churning cauldron of wind and salt water.
Joseph Cione, chief meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told CBS News senior environmental and national correspondent Ben Tracy that it’s essential they find a way down, by whatever means possible.
“We still have to go down there. That’s the thing. We can’t help it. ‘Oh, it’s too dangerous. We can’t go down there.'” Well, we as humans may not be able to go there, but we can bring our technology and send that data so it can be used,” Cione said.
One of the ways to obtain boundary layer information includes the use of an unmanned drone that can fly in and around higher wind gusts.
The drone, called “The Altius 600,” weighs about 25 pounds and can fly for nearly four hours, providing real-time data.
When the drone is deployed, its mission is to detect intensity changes within the storm.
The fear of scientists and forecasters is.The rapid intensification of a hurricane can give coastal communities little time to prepare.
A recent example of a rapidly intensifying hurricane is. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey went from Category 1 to Category 4 in just 24 hours before making landfall, devastating and Louisiana.
Research shows that Atlantic hurricanes are now intensifying faster due to warmer ocean waters, likely due to. Earth’s warmer atmosphere means storms also hold more water, and rising oceans can make storm surges more devastating.
It is this knowledge and the data collected from hurricane hunters that helped millions ofpossibly saving lives.
“By having these observations that we wouldn’t otherwise have, we can tell meteorologists and emergency managers who make these life-and-death decisions, to evacuate or not, if the storm is as strong or weaker than you think.” Cione said.
It also helps forecasters on the ground predict where a usually unpredictable hurricane may go, and the data collected could help prepare for the next big storm.