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When a hurricane threatens to make landfall in the United States, crews of hurricane hunters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fly into the storm. They do this to learn more about it.
Lieutenant Commander Kevin Doremus is a pilot with the NOAA. His job is to guide a Lockheed WP-3D Orion through the eyewall of a hurricane. Doremus and his copilot work with an onboard meteorologist known as the flight director to maneuver the aircraft safely.
Scientists on board measure the air pressure, temperature, and humidity at the storm’s center. They measure the wind’s direction and speed. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center use this information. They predict the path a hurricane will take and how much storm surge it will produce. These determine whether evacuations are necessary. The work of hurricane hunters saves lives.
Five Fast Facts
Want to hunt hurricanes? Here, Doremus helps describe some key aspects of the job.
Hurricane hunters prioritize safety. Flying into a hurricane seems risky. But NOAA pilots undergo extensive training. Much of it is spent learning how to react if something goes wrong. “We will only fly a mission if we can mitigate risks to a safe level,” Doremus says.
Hurricane hunters work unusual hours. Hurricane hunters monitor storms round the clock for days. If Doremus is assigned to a night mission, he gets up at 2 a.m. and is in the air by 4 a.m. “Getting up that early can be difficult,” he says. “But we’re here to [offer] support 24 hours a day, and we’re ready to do it.”
Education in science is key. Doremus earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from the Florida Institute of Technology. He earned a graduate certificate in coastal studies from Nova Southeastern University, in Florida.
Strong leadership skills are a must. “You are put in situations where we need people to make split-second decisions,” Doremus says.
NOAA pilots stay busy in the off-season. The Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to November 30. The rest of the year, Doremus flies smaller planes called Twin Otters to support scientific research around the globe.