Hurricane Ike - Flight with the Hurricane Hunters

Near Cuba - Sept. 09 2008

  • For 2 years, we've been trying to get on board a hurricane Hunter flight to document it for Angry Planet... Our perseverance finally paid off and I was able to go up in one of the WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircraft during a flight to penetrate the eye of Hurricane Ike as it made it's way off the coastline of Cuba.
  • The flights are performed by the 53rd Weather Air Reconnaissance Squadron, based out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. The reservists who man these flights risk their own lives to bring back critical weather data that is used by the National Hurricane Center to make better forecast and in turn, save lives.
  • Hurricane Ike Flight YouYube



    At the Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

    I'm getting ready to climb aboard.



    What an honor to be joining them on this flight.

    The morning briefing.



    Preparing the WC-130J for takeoff.

    There are 10 Hurricane Hunter planes in total at Keesler.
  • The flight itself was delayed for a few hours to allow Hurricane Ike the opportunity to slide back out over water after spending the night over western Cuba. After a couple of hours of flying across the Gulf of Mexico, the storm slowly became visible on the radar screen. It is a common misconception that these planes fly over the storms but in fact, they fly directly through the turbulent eyewall and into the calm eye. The altitude for our mission was 10,000 feet and the plan was to release numerous dropsondes into the storm.
  • A dropsonde is an instrumented cylinder that is dropped from the plane which measures air speed & direction as well as air pressure, temperature and humidity. All this data is radioed back to the plane and logged on a computer.
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    In the cockpit.



    Manning the weather equipment.

    The plane is not built for comfort. This is no private jet.



    Checking in with the Cuban officials about flying over their air space.

    Whiteout conditions in the hurricane eyewall. Fasten your seat belts!
  • One complication we had was that when we arrived at the storm, the eye was still over Cuba. They can't release dropsondes over land and flying an Air Force plane over Cuba requires special permission. The pilot was able to radio the Cuban authorities and acquire the proper permission and so we were able to get some radar and other measurements over Cuban land. Once the storm finally got back over water again, we were able to drop more sondes. With the center of the storm over the warm waters of the gulf, it began the reform and take better shape. After our 8 hour flight (which is short by Hurricane Hunter standards), we returned to Biloxi where another flight had already taken off to resume where we left off.
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    Looking down inside the eye at the Cuban coastline.

    Even the Hurricane Hunters have a sense of humor.



    A radar view of our position in the eye of the storm.

    The dropsonde tube where the instrument packs are dropped into the storm.