KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Forecasters knew Hurricane Ian intensified overnight before making landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane in part because of an elite group of pilots and meteorologists called the Hurricane Hunters.
Garrett Black grew up in Kansas passionate about tornadoes and storm chasing. Wednesday he was flying through that Category 4 Hurricane at 10,000 feet.
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking at times flying through weather because typically what you avoid in an airplane,” Captain Garrett Black, U.S. Air Force Reserves, said.
Wednesday morning Black was on a flight like none you’ve ever been on, nor has he. And he’s a U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunter.
NOAA has its own team, but Black is one of 10 such Air Force meteorologists in the nation. The Hutchinson, Kansas native and KU grad left Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi about 1:30 Wednesday morning in a C-130 heading toward Hurricane Ian.
“We go out there and we gather the data and try to get some of the missing puzzle pieces that satellite and the models are having trouble picking up. At that point we deliver it to National Hurricane Center,” Black said.
They flew through lightning and hail as they approached Ian’s eye.
“We knew the storm was definitely going through some kind of strengthening phase and as we continued to go through the storm the turbulence became a bit more severe,” Black said.
He says despite their training, the six hours spent inside the hurricane was uncomfortable as some on the flight struggled with air sickness.
“It was definitely probably the roughest ride I’ve experienced,” Black said.
But they were able to collect valuable data about wind speeds at 10,000 feet and on the surface that helped Floridians know what they were in for and how the storms direction and expected catastrophic landfall point was shifting to the south. That may have saved lives.
With Ian likely to head out to the Atlantic Friday and make landfall again in Georgia or the Carolinas, Black stands ready to go back into the storm if called upon.