Government scientists know what it’s like to look a hurricane in the eye. They are doing this for countless storms by flying hurricane-hunting airplanes and dropping sensors to measure the strength of the storm.
But for some members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Ian was the hardest storm ever made.
It made landfall in southwestern Florida as a major Category 4 hurricane, making it one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. as a Category 5 hurricane.
The ride is often bumpy and loud. But there is a place where even battle-tested airplanes and ice-bag-proof scientists can’t. The boundary layer lies at 3,000 feet where the air and ocean meet – thought to be a violent churning of air and salt water.
Joseph Zion, chief meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent Ben Tracy that it’s essential they find a way down anyway.
“We still need to get down. That’s it. We can’t escape it. ‘Oh it’s too dangerous. We can’t go there.’ Well, we as humans probably can’t go down, but we can bring our technology down and send that data back so it can be used,” Zion said.
One of the ways to get information from the border layer involves using unmanned drones that can fly in and around the highest gusts of wind.
The drone, named “The Altius 600,” weighs about 25 pounds and can fly for about four hours – feeding back real-time data.
When the drone is deployed, its mission is to detect changes in intensity within a storm.
Fear for both scientists and prophetsThe sheer intensity of the storm can give coastal communities little time to prepare.
A recent example of a rapidly intensifying storm is, In 2017, Hurricane Harvey moved from a Category 1 to a Category 4 before it made landfall, devastating and Louisiana.
Research shows that Atlantic hurricanes are now intensifying more rapidly, possibly due to warmer ocean waters., Earth’s warmer atmosphere means that storms also hold more water and rising oceans can make hurricanes more destructive.
It’s the knowledge and data gathered from hurricane hunters that helped millionsPossibly life saving.
“With these observations that we wouldn’t have otherwise, we can tell forecasters and emergency managers that these life-and-death decisions, evacuate or not, if the storm is stronger or weaker than you think,” Zion said.
It also helps forecasters on the ground predict where a typically unpredictable storm may head and the data collected can help prepare for the next major storm.