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PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL – Hurricane Michael may have moved onshore but as it made landfall, the Hurricane Hunters were flying into the heart of the storm.

The Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters, fly into powerful hurricanes whenever and wherever they’re needed.  Dropping dozens of data recorders, or dropsondes, into the storm helps those on the ground make life or death decisions.

Staff Sgt. Jesse Jordan says there’s really only one way this vital data can be gathered, “The only way to get it is to be in the storm. We just simply don’t have access to the data from satellite and we can’t exactly sail a boat into a hurricane.”

A dropsonde being recorded in flight before being jettisoned into Hurricane Michael

For the most part during the flight, all you see is a lot of clouds and rain. It’s not until you finally make it through the eye wall that you see something truly breathtaking.  And while these flights are routine, today’s journey hit a few more bumps than usual.

For our flight, the final pass into the eyewall was fierce, the hurricane deciding to show us that it was really in control and even making an impression on a seasoned pilot, Lt. Col. Sean Cross:

“As we pressed through the southern eyewall, that was pretty intense. That was probably the toughest ride I’ve had, I’m gonna be honest with you.”

A wide-angle view of the eyewall of Hurricane Michael from the cockpit of the Hurricane Hunter

And these storms are sometimes more than a scientific mission. For a lot of these folks, the Gulf Coast is called home and it puts a human element to the monstrous storms. In fact, after our flight, Lt. Col. Cross was still waiting to hear about how his parents rode out the storm.

“My family lives there and my parents are elderly so that’s what I’m thinking about right now.” That was his response when he was asked: ‘What’s next?’ after the flight.  Thankfully he soon heard that his parents were doing well as the storm passed through.

So the next time you hear a storm may be coming: Remember there’s not only people on the ground, but also up in the sky, helping to keep you safe.

Crew for our mission with the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, the Hurricane Hunter.