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Subject: H3) What is it like to fly into a hurricane?

P3 ladder P3 on tarmac P3 in the air

Contributed by Chris Landsea (NHC)

The most incredible sight that I've ever seen is in the middle of a strong hurricane. One might not believe this, but most hurricane flights are fairly boring. They last 10 hours, there are clouds above you and clouds below - so all you see is gray, and you don't feel the winds swirling around the hurricane.

outer rainband hurricane rainband P3 in eyewall

But what does get interesting is flying through the hurricane's rainbands and the eyewall, which can get a bit turbulent. The eyewall is a donut-like ring of thunderstorms that surround the calm eye. The winds within the eyeall can reach as much as 200 mph [325 km/hr] at the flight level, but you can't feel these aboard the plane. But what makes flying through the eyewall exhilarating and at times somewhat scary, are the turbulent updrafts and downdrafts that one hits. Those flying in the plane definitely feel these wind currents (and sometimes makes us reach for the air-sickness bags). These vertical winds may reach up to 50 mph [80 km/hr] either up or down, but are actually much weaker in general than what one would encounter flying through a continental supercell thunderstorm.

hurricane eye

But once the plane gets into the calm eye of a hurricane like Andrew or Gilbert, it is a place of powerful beauty: sunshine streams into the windows of the plane from a perfect circle of blue sky directly above the plane, surrounding the plane on all sides is the blackness of the eyewall's thunderstorms,

looking down into eye sea surface in eye

... and directly below the plane peeking through the low clouds one can see the violent ocean with waves sometimes 60 feet high [20 m] crashing into one another. The partial vacuum of the hurricane's eye (where one tenth of the atmosphere is gone) is like nothing else on earth. I would much rather experience a hurricane this way - from the safety of a plane - than being on the ground and having the hurricane's full fury hit without protection.

on the way home

The USAFR 53rd Hurricane Hunters have a 'cyber flight' through a hurriacne. To try it CLICK HERE.

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