Hurricane Hunters: Riding into the 'perfect storm'

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Chief Meteorologist DaveWilliams had a chance to fly with the Air Force Hurricane Hunters overHurricane Sandy.

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

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

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

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

Theinformation is critical when it comes to issuing the official watches andwarnings put in place to keep people safe.

But asmooth 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 thinkingbefore you go out, but of course you always expect the unexpected as well,"said The flight meteorologist says she loves flying with the hurricane huntersand she's seen her fair share of storm. But she said something about HurricaneSandy is a little different.

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

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

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

She also reads measurements from theairplane itself.

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

And she relies on a little oldschool technology.

"Periodically you'll see me lookingout the window because I'm looking at the water, and I'm using the same thingthat sailors have used for centuries. They could tell how strong the winds wereby 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 -- thingslike that."

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

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

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