Hurricane Hunters head into danger to keep public safe

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The images from Hurricane Sandy are all too familiar in the Lowcountry. It was a different state and different neighbors, but the pictures were strikingly similar. In the span of mere hours, Hurricane Sandy changed parts of the northeast coast of the U.S. forever.While the Category-2 storm geared up for landfall, we had a chance to board a plane with the famous Hurricane Hunters and fly into the storm.{}{} {}"It's a very large storm as far as the dimension of it. As far as the strength, it's a Category 2, it may be down to a 1 now. I think it's a one, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a weak storm. We may be getting a very smooth ride up here at times -- we've got some pretty good stuff right now -- but what the people are going to feel on the ground, it's completely opposite of what we're experiencing up here at flight level," said Pilot Sean Cross.What would happen on the ground resulted in damage assessments over $68 billion, a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina.Nearly 300 people died along the path of the storm as it moved through seven states on its way north. And as the storm zeroed in on landfall, there were signs in the air as to what was coming.{}{} {}"What's interesting about this is how broad the whole thing is and just that reminder don't focus on that little pinpoint of where it is right now, the effects are going to be seen quite a distance from the center," said the flight's meteorologist.The watches and warnings designed to keep people safe on the ground are based on what this crew sees and records from the sky.{}{} {}"We'll drop a sonde into the center of the storm to find out the lowest pressure of the storm and whether the storm is decreasing or increasing in intensity," said the Hurricane Hunters' loadmaster. "This was our first pass through the center. You see the wind actually change direction right here; you see the winds are really very strong in the center, we have much stronger winds on either side of it."{}{} {}The information is valuable, but it's what people on the ground choose to do with it that makes it invaluable. Here in the Lowcountry, we've seen the devastation, we've felt the loss, and as for learning the lesson to heed the warnings, the Hurricane Hunters fly into every storm to make sure you know what's happening and when.{}{} {}As for what to do with that information -- that's up to you. But listening could save your life before the storm strikes.