WAKE COUNTY, N.C. -- Maj. Lucas Caulder is one of the many hurricane hunters that are taking part in the East Coast Hurricane Awareness Tour. The United States Air Force Reservist explains his job to the crowd that descended on the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. To the audience, Caulder has an amazing job. But Caulder reminds them that his career carries a lot of responsibility.
"Most of us have grown up at the coast or lived there," Caulder said. "So it's an important job for us. Needs to be taken seriously."
The United States Air Force Reservists based in Biloxi, Mississippi, fly their WC 130J directly into the heart of tropical systems.
"We enjoy what we do," Caulder said. "We provide a valuable service but we don't want a hurricane to hit the coast. We do it because it's necessary. Not because we love it."
The WC 130J flies between 500 feet and 10,000 feet. The goal is to make a giant X pattern across the tropical cyclone. This ensures the team will get the right storm position and gather critical data that can be used to keep people on the ground out of the storm's path.
Meanwhile Cmdr. Doug MacIntyre is the pilot of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration or NOAA Gulfstream G4.
"The great thing about this plane, flying at about 600 mph for 8 hours at at time," MacIntyre said. "We sample the storm environment and the air and weather system surrounding the storm."
MacIntyre uses an example from Hurricane Matthew to explain why covering so much territory is important.
"We took off from St. Croix, flew around the storm, into the Gulf of Mexico and landed in Tampa, Florida. The National Hurricane Center had a model of the Atlantic Ocean, the storm and the Gulf of Mexico. With that data, the National Hurricane Center concluded Hurricane Matthew would threaten the east coast, especially North Carolina."
Just like in the WC 130J, the NOAA Gulfstream G4 releases sensors called dropsondes into the storm. Wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity and air pressure is collected and sent in real time to the National Hurricane Center. MacIntyre believes as technology improves, data hurricane hunters collect will make for even more accurate hurricane models.
"Hopefully with more technology we can make a seven or 10-day forecast track people can rely on and see that if the track is coming toward you it's time to evacuate."
While hurricane models are reducing their margin of error, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb reminds us too many people are ignoring the danger of flooding.
"The next big thing to tackle is the warnings and education that focus on the inland flooding hazard," Knabb said.
This is especially true in North Carolina. In October extremely heavy rain from Hurricane Matthew produced over 2,000 swift water rescues and several roads, homes and businesses across central and eastern North Carolina were flooded.