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Hurricane Irene focused her aim on the Eastern Seaboard Friday, threatening 65 million people from North Carolina to New England.
Paul Flaherty has already seen the massive storm up close.
Flaherty is a flight meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aircraft Operations Center at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and he recently flew with a crew of more than a dozen others into the eye of Hurricane Irene.
“People think it’s crazy being on an aircraft bouncing around,” he told Here & Now‘s Sacha Pfeiffer.
“But I always liken it to– if you go to an amusement park, if you’re on a roller coaster you’re expecting to have that kind of ride. If you go on a Ferris wheel you’re not. We are expecting to be involved in a lot of movement on that aircraft so it doesn’t really bother us that much.”
The team uses two types of aircraft to collect data: The Gulfstream G-4, a jet that flies around and above the hurricane; and the Orion P-3, which is a propeller plane that flies directly into the storm.
“Our plane is just a speck in that storm,” he said .
“Sometimes it dawns on me it might be a little crazy what we’re doing, but I’ve seen the number of people we’ve been able to evacuate in storms, so I know we’re doing it for the right reasons,” he said.
Flaherty’s team gathers information that’s used to determine weather patterns and the need for evacuations. They learn about the wind from Doppler radar measured on a device that sits on the tail of the plane.
They also use a tube-like device called a “dropsonde” that’s dropped from the plane into the hurricane and sends back readings on temperature, pressure and humidity.