BILOXI, MS (WKRG) — Part of the WKRG news team boarded a military plane early Saturday morning with the Hurricane Hunters. The team flew into the heart of Hurricane Irma while it was in the Cuba area. Reporters Cameron Edgeworth, J.B. Biunno and photojournalist Clinton Bourgeois took off from the Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The team boarded the WC-130J air craft also known as ‘Super Hercules’. The air craft has flown into several hurricanes to gather data from the eye of the hurricane.
Major Steve Pituch is one of the pilots for the air force reserve. Major Pituch has flown into several hurricanes, but even he had nerves before flying into Hurricane Irma, “Irma’s the biggest. Well not size wise, but strength. You know she’s the biggest they got in the Atlantic. So it’ll be interesting to see from my personal perspective how that feels. How violent it’s going to be to the aircraft.”
At one point the News 5 team experienced strong turbulence on the air craft, and when it landed after the mission, we learned the air craft had been struck by lightning. Fortunately no one was hurt.
The mission is important because the hurricane hunters gather data that satellites can not get. Crews drop devices called dropsondes into the eye of the hurricane. Lieutenant Colonel Kaitlyn Woods is a meteorologist for the Air Force Reserve and tells News 5 what data the device collects, “It’s a really good indicator of how strong the storm is, and whether it’s not intensifying or weakening.”
Crews dropped several dropsondes Saturday into the eye of Hurricane Irma. The data collected was able to determine that Irma was shifting northwest into Florida, and weakened to a Category 3 storm.
Lieutenant Colonel Woods tells News 5 that Irma could strengthen again. Despite the dangers of the job, both Lieutenant Colonel Woods and Major Pituch say they will keep doing what they’re doing.
Lieutenant Colonel Woods says, “I lived through Hurricane Katrina. I saw the devastation from that. I would rather fly through these storms any day, than be on the ground.”
Major Pituch says, “I can save more lives by being in the plane, getting the data, and getting it sent off to Gargus so they can process the warnings and get people out of the way.”