To peer inside the workings of hurricanes like Irma and Harvey, weather forecasters must make a daring move—flying into the eye of the storm. Hurricane Hunters fly through hurricanes, dodging heavy rains and sometimes lightning and hail.
Now you can see this Hurricane Hunters crew flying into Irma’s historic high winds in a video recently posted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A Category 5 hurricane, a rare classification in itself, is defined by winds 157 miles per hour or more. At its strongest, Hurricane Irma has reached sustained winds of 185 miles per hour.
Pilots began flying a jet aircraft on daily missions into Irma on September 3, piercing the storm’s growing winds. While weather satellites allow meteorologists to track hurricanes’ paths, crewed missions help collect data on a storm’s temperature, wind speeds and directions, and barometric pressure. (More intense hurricanes have lower pressure.)
This data is collected by deploying tools called dropsondes, cylindrically shaped instruments that transmit information as they fall through the hurricane and into the ocean. According to data posted on the NOAA Hurricane Research Division website, around 30 dropsondes have been deployed by each flight to survey Irma.
Some of the most intriguing video footage from NOAA flights shows Irma’s “eye,” the middle of the hurricane where winds are calmest. The crew documented a phenomenon known as the “stadium effect” in which the eyewalls, or edges of the hurricane’s eye, widen and open up to expose clear sky.
Irma continues to move through the Caribbean, where it is expected to hit Florida by Sunday evening as a Category 3 storm. It’s the largest hurricane in recorded history measured in the Atlantic Ocean.
The National Hurricane Centre is also watching two more hurricanes that now form a trio with Irma: Katia in the southern Gulf of Mexico and Jose in the mid-Atlantic. A number of conditions have converged to make this hurricane season more active than others in recent years.
Header Image: Daredevils fly into a hurricane for science. Photograph from footage by NOAA/OMAO