Hurricane hunter: It’s a job that’ll blow you away but is very important for tracking tropical systems

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — We are now heading towards the most active months of hurricane season.

One of the most important jobs during this time is actually flying into the storms to gather data. The scientists who do this are better known as hurricane hunters.

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There are two main agencies that handle hurricane hunting, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force. While NOAA is more research-oriented, the Air Force works directly with the National Hurricane Center to get them the most accurate, up-to-date information on a hurricane.

Maj. Jeremy DeHart of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron has been hurricane hunting for more than five years. The NC State graduate and self-proclaimed weather nerd spoke about what exactly hurricane hunters do.

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“So that is the first objective, to tell the NHC where exactly using latitude and longitude coordinate, where exactly is this storm located at this current time,” DeHart said. “And we will fly what’s called an Alpha pattern. You start in say the northwest quadrant, you fly through, you do a cross leg, and then you fly through again and that’s considered one alpha pattern.

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“And then the whole time the plane itself is gathering weather data, at flight level, and then we are also releasing what’s called dropsondes from the airplane, which are released at flight level and then drop all the way down to the surface measuring the vertical extent of the atmosphere each time we drop that.”

The scariest experience he’s had? That would be Hurricane Michael in 2018.

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“It’s not too atypical to drop some altitude. We dropped about 2,000 feet in altitude in the eyewall, from the south to north eyewall pass,” DeHart said. “So once we actually got in the storm environment, we had to circle for a while and find a patch of better air to get through going outbound.”

But for him, it’s all worth it.

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“We all raised our hand to serve the public and that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do is go get the best data we can so that the NHC can make the best forecasts that they can which ultimately reduces that cone of uncertainty,” DeHart said.

Hurricane hunters don’t just monitor hurricanes but work year-round to track things like snowstorms and atmospheric rivers.

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