Just a day after the official start of hurricane season, Hurricane Hunter pilots from the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and Air Force Reserve were called for their first missions of the year – flying into Tropical Storm Cristobal.
“We go right through the middle of the storm, right through the eyewall and eye, up to anywhere from two to seven or eight times per flight,” NOAA Corps Lt. Cmdr. Adam Abitbol, who has flown into hurricanes for the past six years, told MOAA in a recent interview. “There’s definitely some points that can be more stressful during that flight.”
Hurricane Hunter pilots are tasked by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami to fly into the storm and drop instruments that measure winds, temperature, and humidity. The instruments transmit the data back to the aircraft in real time before falling into the ocean, where they biodegrade.
The information is collected by researchers and scientists onboard and shared with the National Hurricane Center, which uses it to supplement other indicators to better predict hurricane routes and severity. The goal is to provide the accurate information to Americans on the ground so they can prepare or evacuate.
Abitbol joined the NOAA Corps after flying reconnaissance missions in EP-3 aircraft for the Navy for about 10 years. As a Florida native, hurricanes were a steady part of his childhood and serving as a hurricane pilot was a personal point of pride.
“We all do it out of a sense of pride and duty and everyone on the plane is very committed to that,” Abitbol said.
Sharing hurricane airspace with the NOAA Corps are the Air Force Reserve’s Hurricane Hunter teams, which fly WC-130 aircraft.
“My mom still thinks I’m crazy for doing this,” said Capt. Will Simmons, USAFR, who flies for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Base, Miss. Simmons, who earned a degree in meteorology, has flown through the center of 88 hurricanes in his five years with the squadron.
“Outside of improving the forecast, saving lives is the ultimate goal,” he said. “And if I can serve my country and also be part of a mission that I love and possibly save lives, I can’t think of a better career to have.”