Hurricane Hunters: Riding into the 'perfect storm' - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Hurricane Hunters: Riding into the 'perfect storm'

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – Chief Meteorologist Dave Williams had a chance to fly with the Air Force Hurricane Hunters over Hurricane Sandy.

The crew left from Savannah and traveled up the Eastern Seaboard to meet the storm.

As the massive aircraft made repeated passes across Sandy, it monitored everything from pressure and direction to wind speed and wave heights. Those measurements help forecasters know where Sandy is going and when.

At first glance, this looks like the cockpit of a routine military flight. But it's anything but normal -- as these pilots willingly fly into some of the worst weather on the planet.

After takeoff from Savannah, the familiar spiral bands of a hurricane came into view. The Hurricane Hunter crew started flying a back and forth pattern across Sandy, with the goal of getting the most up to the minute information on the ground.

The information is critical when it comes to issuing the official watches and warnings put in place to keep people safe.

But a smooth ride is not always a guarantee for the hurricane hunters.

"That's what you're checking: its movement, intensity and all that, so I like to know what they're thinking before you go out, but of course you always expect the unexpected as well," said The flight meteorologist says she loves flying with the hurricane hunters and she's seen her fair share of storm. But she said something about Hurricane Sandy is a little different.

"What's interesting about this is how broad the whole thing is and just that reminder: don't focus on that little pinpoint of where it is right now, the effects are going to be seen quite a distance from the center."

He crew uses scientific data from instruments called "dropsonds," tube-like objects sent out of the bottom of the aircraft into the storm.

"We'll drop a sonde into the center of the storm to find out the lowest pressure of the storm, and whether the storm is decreasing or increasing in intensity," she said.

She also reads measurements from the airplane itself.

"I'll follow the winds in basically since the winds are blowing counter-clockwise around the low, as long as we fly with the left wing pointing up into the wind, the nose is pointed toward the center," she said. "This was our first pass through the center, you see the wind actually change direction right here, you see the winds are really very strong in the center, we have much stronger winds on either side of it."

And she relies on a little old school technology.

"Periodically you'll see me looking out the window because I'm looking at the water, and I'm using the same thing that sailors have used for centuries. They could tell how strong the winds were by what the water looks like, so you'll see long streaks in the water -- actually the foam takes on a greenish color about 35 miles per hour -- things like that."

At the end of the day, the main job is helping meteorologists on the ground understand where the storm is headed so they can help get people out of harm's way before it's too late.

But as the flight meteorologist would agree, the view out the office window isn't so bad.

"This is a full time job, and it really is a dream job for a meteorologist. You're up there experiencing the weather. I'm sure you've always been interested in severe weather, that's what got us into this, plus I love to fly. It's a dream job and I feel real lucky to be paid to do something that's so interesting and is helping people too," she said.

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