Hurricane Hunters visit Lakeland to give inside look at tracking storms

Posted at 5:38 PM, May 11, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. — At first glance, the C-130 Hurricane Hunter plane is intimidating, bulky and looks like it’s been to war and back.

ABC Action News boarded one of just 12 planes worldwide that has flown through hundreds of Hurricanes.

And you’d be surprised to hear the crew explain their experiences.

Colonel Brian A. May, a USAG Commander, wore an Army green jumpsuit as he took ABC Action News on a tour of the aircraft.

He's one of the many pilots that risk their lives to collect data before hurricanes even make landfall in the U.S.

May says entering a hurricane is like bad turbulence, and that the pilot has to try to cut through the wind so it’s even on both wings.

May calls the eye of a storm beautiful, and only a select few will probably ever witness it from the air.

The C-130 was on display at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, as a Hurricane Preparedness Week finale of sorts.

NOAA, The National Hurricane Center and other experts were on the tarmac to display the gear that saves countless lives.

But out of them all, the Hurricane Hunter plane stands out, so that’s why we wanted to learn all we could.

During the tour of the plane, a few facts were made abundantly clear. As residents, we depend on this aircraft.

“99% of the data is necessary for forecasting and tracking predictions that come from our platform,” May said.

That means each time there’s a news flash or Denis Phillips comes on air to update the public with a new track, it likely came straight from the source: the National Hurricane Center.

While the plane is bulky, even scary looking, the object that actually collects the data almost looks like a homemade school project your 10-year-old made for science class.

Wrapped in a cardboard tube, string and hooked to a parachute, May explains this essential tool collects data from the storm, takes about 10 minutes to fall from the plane and transmits data back to the meteorologists.

“It’s got a transmitter which is collecting that data four times a second and coming back up every two seconds,” May said.

When one transmitter is complete, it falls to the ocean and disintegrates. Then other transmitters are released.

Hurricane Hunters say they will fly through a storm for 24 hours a day, each day until the storm makes landfall. This way they can report back wind speeds, shifts, and intensity among other things.

Pilots will fly through the storm about four times, before backing off and letting another plane enter the hurricane.

The planes only carry enough gas for about 14 hour flights.

This is one of many reasons the National Hurricane Center says 2017 was one of the most accurate seasons to date.

“2017 was a record-breaking season,” Ken Graham, the director for the National Hurricane Center said.

One of the questions meteorologists say they hate the most is “What will this year be like?" 

Experts say no matter how busy or quiet a hurricane season may be, it all depends what affects your state.

“There could be one storm on earth. If it hits Florida then it’s a busy year for us,” Graham said.

That’s why being prepared is one of the most important rules to follow. Because no matter how accurate or spot on a forecast is, fact is - the storm is still coming.

“We know it’s important but the most important thing is getting that data back to the forecasters, to the emergency planners,” May said.

That’s why pilots like May and his colleagues keep doing what they do; to protect us on the ground and their families back home.

“It’s a collaborative effort that we all come together to provide that for the folks who may be impacted by the storm,” May said.

The 2018 hurricane forecast by NOAA will be released at the end of May.