TAMPA - On Wednesday, 17 people were on-board a plane that flew into Hurricane Irene... and they did it on purpose.
They work out of the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But they are more commonly known by their nickname: ‘The Hurricane Hunters'.
Whenever a hurricane forms, the ‘Hurricane Hunters' fly toward it, hoping to gain valuable information about the storm.
Sometimes they fly a G-4 Aircraft, which flies around and above the storm. Other times, they climb on-board a P-3 Aircraft, which flies directly into the storm.
On Wednesday, they flew the P-3 into Hurricane Irene, and ABC Action News got to tag along for the bumpy ride.
We saw a group of pilots maneuver through hurricane-force winds and sheets of rain. They relied on radar, because the clouds were so intense, they could see nothing out of the cockpit.
While they did that, scientists in the back of the plane gathered data about the storm in one of two ways.
Crews gather information about the wind from Doppler radar, measured on a device affixed to the tail of the plane. They also gather information by dropping a tube-like device called a dropsonde from the plane. The dropsonde gives readings on temperature, pressure and humidity.
The crew successfully did both of those things on Wednesday, despite experiencing the bumpiness of a flight through a hurricane. Their data will help forecasters predict where Hurricane Irene will go and how bad it will be when it gets there.
NOAA will make these flights continuously as Hurricane Irene approaches the United States.