Sep 14th, 2018

Hurricane Florence How Big Is It?

As the southeastern United States braces for Hurricane Florence, how big is it and where will it hit become important questions.

Viewers watch coverage of hurricanes around the clock and hear weathermen and weatherwoman give us great detail of wind speed, direction, traveling speed, etc.  How do they know all of that information?

The Technology

Many assume that we get that information from weather satellites flying harmlessly above the storms.  That is only a small part of the picture.  The most important details are gathered in anything but a harmless matter.

The United States federal agency tasked with gathering hurricane information is The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA for short.  NOAA (pronounced like the Biblical builder of the ark) has been in the business of hurricane hunting for decades.

NOAA operates two types of aircraft in this pursuit:  The Gulfstream IVSP (left) and the WP-3D Orion (right).  But what do they do with these aircraft?  They flying them into the eye of the storm.  You read that correctly.  Like first responders who run into burning buildings while everyone else runs out, NOAA hurricane hunters fly into a hurricane while other aircraft are flying away.  For an informative close up of the pilots and airplanes used see:

As they fly into the fringes of the storm, they begin to measure wind speed.  The goal is to reach the center (or eye of the hurricane).  As they penetrate the storm they are also gathering data on atmospheric pressures and how they are changing.  These data are fed back to the National Weather Center, which uses them in models to predict the hurricanes path and measure its power.

The Cost

Training crew members, dispatching them within 48 hours of their hurricane penetration, buying the airplanes, maintaining the airplanes, plus the additional overhead costs of pay and benefits does not come cheap.  So why spend the money?

As the Levenson article (see Record Setter) details, a fair estimate of hurricane preparation costs is one million dollars for one mile of shore line.  This includes evacuation costs, generators, boarding up homes, and gas for automobiles to drive families away.

In the “old days” the meteorologist’s predictive models of hurricane paths would outline a 400 mile area where the hurricane may come ashore.  Due to the advances in modeling, coupled with the hurricane hunters’ data, the prediction area has been cut to 200 miles wide.  This translates to a savings of a couple hundred million dollars for each hurricane.  A figure that more than covers the costs of NOAA’s operation.

The Record Holder

As America braces for Hurricane Florence, I would be negligent if I did not mention the record holder when it comes to Hurricane Hunting.  He is the ironman, the workhorse, the Lou Gehrig of Hurricane Hunters, James McFadden.

McFadden hunted his first hurricane, Inez, when Lyndon Johnson was president.  Fifty two years later he is still at it.  James McFadden is now 84 years old and has penetrated 574 storms.  If that sounds like a record, it is — A Guinness Book of World Records record.

You can read more about McFadden’s story and see pictures at:

Bracing for Hurricane Florence

Meanwhile as America braces for Hurricane Florence.  Millions will be watching on their televisions, computer monitors or personal display device.  Watching from a dry temperate home or office.  Meanwhile, brave crews are enduring harsh conditions to help us prepare more smartly. For video coverage of Hurricane Florence from the Hurricane Hunters, see:

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