Hurricane Hunters Fly Into Irma to Monitor Historic Storm

September 08, 2017 08:28 PM

With Hurricane Irma expected to hit Florida by Sunday, people across the country are watching.

Those monitoring the storm are able to learn of the wind speeds, pressure changes and Irma's size thanks to the Hurricane Hunters, a part of the Air Force Reserve.

It is the only Department of Defense organization still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes, and KSTP's Meteorologist Nicole Mitchell is one of them.
Mitchell is a major with the and Air Force Reserve. As a weather officer, she flies into hurricanes to collect data that helps meteorologists all across the country.


On Friday, as thousands evacuated the state of Florida, Mitchell flew straight into the storm.

"This, of course, is a very high profile storm that could do a lot of damage to the United States," she said in a Skype interview.

She's been a Hurricane Hunter since 2003, flying through Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey last and a handful of category 5 hurricanes.

"Over water, you don't have a lot of data," she said. "We don't have radar sites, we don't have weather balloons, things like that. So by flying a plane right into the storm, you can collect all the weather data. Not only to know what the storm is doing, but all of that goes into the computer model to help with the forecast."

That data then gets sent to the National Hurricane Center. From there, meteorologists know to issue watches and warnings.

"I'm just grateful to be able to participate in it, because I really believe in what we do and how much it helps people and helps the forecasts," said Mitchell.

The flights can be just as unpredictable as the storm itself.

"The reason we do this job is so people can be better prepared, so hopefully they are doing their part too," she said.

Measurements and readings taken on these flights dictate the category of the hurricane.

Mitchell says she probably won't land from her flight until 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, so she's getting the overnight readings of this storm in the last hours as it approaches landfall in the United States.


Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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