Major Brad Boudreaux is an Air Force Reserve pilot with the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Major Boudreaux flies into storms aboard WC-130J aircraft to evaluate winds speed and the direction of the storm, feeding data to weather centers, and ultimately to help determine whether evacuations on the ground are necessary.
This data cannot be obtained by satellites that only see the top of the storm.
Major Boudreaux says when he flies into storms, he needs to get as close to the eye as possible, and at times, it does get a little bumpy.
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Lisa Mullins: It is because storms and floods such as Sandy are global concerns that the US air force deploys some of its men and women into the middle of catastrophic events. Major Brad Boudreaux is an Air Force Reserve pilot with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron is also known as the Hurricane Hunters. It’s based out of Biloxi, Mississippi. Major Boudreaux has spent thousands of hours flying C-130 planes into the most severe storms about ten thousand feet up. He and his colleagues gather vital information that satellites can’t see and drones can’t collect and they share the data with any nation that needs it. In the case of Sandy, that included Haiti, Cuba, and Canada. Major Boudreaux flew into Hurricane Sandy more times than he can remember.
Brad Boudreaux: You know, to be honest with you, I lost count. I know the last flight we did six penetrations through the center of the storm, and I believe the flight before that maybe four or five.
Mullins: So how long does each one take?
Boudreaux: It depends. Sometimes we’re [??] anywhere from four to six hours in the storm environment. Last flight I believe we were delayed almost six hours in the storm.
Mullins: Wow. Tell us what you were doing.
Boudreaux: We’re flying through the middle of the storm, so we go in the outer bands of the storm. We’re collecting data as far as pressure, wind, temperature, all that information, we’re constantly collecting it and we’re taking readings and what we’re basically doing is we’re tracking it as far as pinpointing the exact center location of the storm.
Mullins: Take us on one of your flights through Sandy.
Boudreaux: To be honest, sometimes it can be long and boring, but . . .
Mullins: I don’t think so.
Boudreaux: . . . there are plenty of time also where it can be extremely exciting and a little scary.
Mullins: It takes a real veteran, a Hurricane Hunter, to say sometimes it can be pretty boring flying through a hurricane.
Boudreaux: Yeah. Every storm is different. Every time we talk to somebody about that, I try to emphasize how every storm’s a little different.
Mullins: And what was Sandy like?
Boudreaux: Sandy was different in the sense that here were had this tropical storm and when we followed it down by Cuba, it was all the characteristics that we would expect to see in a hurricane where as your stronger winds are close to your eyewall, closer to the center of the storm. Once this thing started building up and it started mixing up with some of the winter air and this jetstream coming down from the north, the storm actually became a very large storm. It was not a very powerful storm, but we were seeing hurricane force winds, they were up to a hundred and fifty miles from the center of the storm.
Mullins: And is that unusual?
Boudreaux: That is unusual. Usually the stronger winds are much closer to the eyewall, the center of the storm. This one, when we got closer into the storm, the winds were really not the strong at a center, which was a little unusual compared to all the other storms that I’ve flown.
Mullins: So when something like Hurricane Sandy has a wider grasp like that, something that you say you hadn’t really seen before, how do you feel that when you’re on the Cc-130?
Boudreaux: It just depends. When it’s mixing up and that dry air is mixing up with some of the moister air, a lot of times you get a lot of convection in the storm in that area and these things can build up pretty fast and that’s when it has the most effect on us because you’re dealing now with these updrafts and downdrafts and we were in Rafael a few weeks ago and we were experiencing this. It was transitioning from a tropical storm into a hurricane. So it was barely a hurricane and it doubled in size while we were in the storm and we had a lot of severe turbulence to extreme turbulence and it was probably the roughest ride I’ve ever been on.
Mullins: So this is, you’re talking about Hurricane Rafael . . .
Boudreaux: This was Rafael.
Mullins: . . . right around Bermuda, correct?
Boudreaux: Right. Close to the Bermuda Triangle. And we can see on the radar that this was going to be a rough ride. We could tell by the indications on our radarscope that this was going very turbulent. So I did tell everybody in the plane, “Hey, make sure you’re strapping in. It’s going to get very bumpy.” So we had everybody strapped in tight, kind of hanging on for the ride, but as we went in there and we experienced this basically airborne tornado. The plane basically tried to flip over on us. I had to go ahead and take the airplane and I pushed the nose down towards the ground just to get the airspeed because we were at max power, trying to maintain that ten thousand feet.
Mullins: So what’s the threat there?
Boudreaux: The threat is that you stall the airplane out and the airplane just falls out of the sky. Air speed keeps you flying, and I was actually having a student on board, a new co-pilot flying with us and so I was actually instructing her at the same time as flying through the storm. So as this is going on I’m also trying to explain to her, “I’m going to lose some altitude in order to gain my air speed back,” and that’s exactly what we did. We put the nose down, got our air speed back, we climbed back up to our altitude, and it was back to a normal, well, what we consider normal, flight.
Mullins: Were you still in the hurricane, in the cyclone within the hurricane at that point? Or had you flown out?
Boudreaux: We were still in the cyclone. We were right in the eyewall of the storm. We were basically in the worst possible area of the storm at the world possible time, when it was rapidly intensifying. While we were in the storm, in the eyewall, this storm had actually doubled in size.
Mullins: Did your mother know you do this?
Boudreaux: She prays a lot.
Mullins: Major Brad Boudreaux, Hurricane Hunter. Ever wonder what the eye of a tropical storm looks like from above? We’ve got a slideshow. It’s at theworld.org.
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