h r i s L a n d s e a
Hurricane Researcher NOAA/AOML/Hurricane Research Division
The most incredible sight that I've ever seen is in the middle of a strong hurricane. One might not believe this, but most hurricane flights are fairly boring to non-meteorologists. They last 10 hours, there are clouds above you and clouds below--so all you see is gray, and you don't feel the winds swirling around the hurricane. But what does get interesting is flying through the hurricane's rainbands--which can get a bit turbulent--and the eyewall. The eyewall is a donut-like ring of thunderstorms that surround the calm eye. Flying through the eyewall can be quite bouncy and exhilarating. But once you get into the eye of a hurricane like Andrew or Gilbert, it is a place of powerful beauty: sunshine streams into the windows of the plane from a perfect circle of blue sky directly above the plane. Surrounding the plane on all sides is the blackness of the eyewall's thunderstorms, and directly below the plane, peeking through a few low clouds, one can see the violent ocean with 60 foot waves crashing into one another. The partial vacuum of the hurricane's eye (where one tenth of the atmosphere is gone) is like nothing else on earth. I would much rather experience a hurricane this way--from the safety of a plane--than being on the ground and having the hurricane's full fury hit you.
I work in Miami, Florida for the NOAA/AOML Hurricane Research Division as a hurricane researcher. I don't make day-to-day forecasts of the storms, as that is what the meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center across town do. And I can't say that I can actually do much about the hurricanes themselves, but I'm trying my best to understand why some years are busy (like 1998 and 1999), while some (like 1997) are very quiet. Once in awhile I get to fly into the hurricanes too as I've described above, as part of our annual field project. But that is only a couple of months out of the year. During the rest of the year, I do quite a bit of computer analysis, writing of papers, going to meetings and giving talks. I certainly enjoy that part of it too, but nothing beats flying into the hurricane itself, in my opinion.
I first got interested in hurricanes growing up in Miami and hearing each summer and fall about these storms with "eyes" that the weathermen gave names to. During my senior year of high school, I was fortunate to be in a wonderful program in the public school system called "Community Laboratory Research", where a couple days a week I got out of school early and worked with the meteorologists Mr. Jack Parrish and Dr. Frank Marks at the NOAA/AOML Hurricane Research Division.