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Inside look: NOAA's Hurricane Hunters track Hurricane Florence

Posted at 6:03 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-11 18:21:04-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — While Hurricane Florence is headed straight for the East Coast, NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters are flying out of the Bay Area to track every turn.

ABC Action News checked in on their operation and preparations before the storm.

As you walk towards the new and modern NOAA Hanger based at the Lakeland Linder International Airport, it almost looks like a museum. 

It’s bright, exciting and quiet. Much more quiet than you’d expect for an operation handling such a large crew and facing danger as Hurricane Florence barrels closer to the coast.

When you walk inside the hanger, it’s stark white and even quieter on the inside. 

As a guest, you have to sign in for safety measures.

But quickly, we were greeted by a communication coordinator who led us to another communication specialist, David Hall.

Hall says he’s had media requests all week, at all hours of the day.

Frankly, we were lucky to get any time with NOAA Hurricane Hunters at all, as this is a very demanding time. 

Hall has set up a pilot for us to talk to, named Nick Morgan.

We only have five minutes before Morgan and a crew of seven other experts board the Gulfstream-Four or ‘Gonzo’ as they’ve named the plane.

Nick Morgan is dressed in a bright blue pilot’s jumper, something you’d expect to see out of a movie. 

“We try to get as high as possible,” Morgan tells ABC Action News he’s been up into Florence four times now.

Amazingly, as we’ve talked to many Hurricane Hunters over the past year, Morgan also says flying into a Hurricane, or above and around in this case, is not too much different than riding in a commercial flight.

Admittedly, he says they cannot avoid some rough patches as they do fly into many violent storms, but says Florence, while large isn’t too different from other hurricanes he’s flown into.

Their main goal is to accurately track Florence’s strength, and any turns she may be taking.

“Narrow down their track and the intensity,” he said.

NOAA tracks the path down to the very mile of where the storm will impact.

This helps local emergency management decide who to evacuate and prepares them to deploy response efforts after the storm has made landfall.

This past summer ABC Action News was invited to the National Hurricane Conference.

There, experts shared how they track the storm.

Just like in the famous movie, Twister, meteorologists drop sensors into the storm that radio back data and information that can help determine the storm’s path. 

“Basically we are trying to sample some of the weather out ahead of the storm and around the storm,” Morgan said.

Once the storm makes landfall, weather stations on the ground are able to do the same work to follow the storm. 

ABC Action News was able to get an exclusive look at the King Air Extended Range 350, what NOAA calls their unsung hero of all of their missions.

While Hurricane Hunters are up in the air tracking the storm, this plane is also in the air getting ready for post-hurricane damage.

“These are real high-resolution maps down to sub-meter accuracy as we are flying,” Lt. Commander Matthew Nardi with NOAA says these pictures are extremely important.

NOAA offers real-time data and photos of impacted areas straight to their public website.

This way emergency management can see where the most damage is, and evacuees can see if their homes are still standing.

“Immediately after the storm goes by those people can get payouts, they can get resources. Local first responders can deploy to the areas that are most impacted by the storm.” Lt. Nardi said.

For the most up-to-date information on Hurricane Florence visit our weather center by clicking here.