Most people head to safety when a hurricane threatens, but a handful of Air Force reservists fly though the wall of a hurricane and into the eye of the storm to gauge its strength.
Two Hurricane Hunters aircraft and their crews made a visit to the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport on Friday as part of a hurricane awareness tour that also included presentations by emergency responders, mobile command centers, a catastrophe response team from USAA, the National Weather Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Lt. Cmdr. Rob Mitchell said flying a WP3 Delta specifically built to fly into hurricanes is a different experience each time he does it. And after 48 hurricane penetrations, he knows the difference between a Category 1 and a Category 5 storm.
The turbulence can range from the bumps a passenger could experience on a bad commercial flight to ones that make pilots questions their sanity. There are times when the flight into the eye of the storm is so turbulent that Mitchell said he doesn’t look forward to the return flight.
“It can be six hours of boredom and two hours of sheer terror,” Mitchell said of flying through the wall of a powerful hurricane.
Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa said he flew the combat version of the C-130 transport before he volunteered to be part of the Hurricane Hunter crew. He said the plane is so structurally solid that it doesn’t need any structural modifications to fly through the wall of a hurricane. But he said there are times where he wonders what he’s doing flying through the wall of a hurricane.
The Hurricane Hunter crews use an array of sophisticated instruments to monitor wind speed, air pressure and gather other information to help determine the strength and direction of the storm.
The intent of the event at the airport was the create awareness about the upcoming hurricane season, and it was the final stop on the five-city tour. One of the goals during the current tour is to create awareness about the risk of flooding inland caused by a hurricane.
“You get all the heavy rains and tornadoes. It’s more than the wind that you see on TV,” said Lt. Col. Marnee Losurdo.
Rob Burr, executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission, said airports also play an important role during a hurricane, where emergency operations are often staged during the recovery after a storm strikes.