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INSIDE LOOK: Hurricane hunters fly into the eyes of hurricanes

Missions gather critical forecasting data
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Posted at 6:05 PM, May 25, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Flying airplanes into hurricanes sounds dangerous, but brave men and women take on these missions every hurricane season to keep us safe.

“This will be going into my seventh hurricane season,” Major Steve Bischel explained. He is an experienced hurricane hunter. “It's very rewarding,” Bischel added. “I'm originally from Ohio, so never thought in a million years I'd be flying into hurricanes.”

That's exactly what he does with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Bischel helps fly their WC-130J planes into the heart of hurricanes. The squadron crews are based at Keesler Airforce Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. They'll fly all over the Atlantic basin investigating those storms.

“When those planes go into the tropical storm or hurricane, they're collecting critical, critical data,” added Felecia Bowser. She is meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Office in Tallahassee. “It takes a team effort with the filtration that goes from top to bottom in order to get that message out to the public,” Bowser said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a part of that team. Their operation is based in Lakeland, Florida.

Team members, including Samantha Timers, coordinate with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron on missions.

“A lot of the time we're flying into the storm at the same time,” Timmers said. “We'll have to coordinate with them. We'll fly at different altitudes and make sure they're we're not getting into each other's space and stuff like that."

She and her colleagues investigate dangerous weather. They have the storms they've flown through stenciled on the outside of their plane. That includes Hermine, the last hurricane to directly impact Tallahassee in 2016.

“We all know at the end of the day we're doing it to help prepare people and help save lives. We're all happy to do it," Timmers shared.

“It's just great to serve the people. It's just a wonderful job. I'm blessed to be a part of it," Bischel concluded.

The missions they fly can last 8 to 12 hours at a time.

Get an in-depth look at the work they day during the 2023 Prepare Now Hurricane Special. Watch the special broadcast Friday, May 26th at 7 p.m. on ABC 27.