BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Pretty good weather here. Pretty bad weather out there," said Aircraft Commander Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa as he held a briefing with Hurricane Hunters and media members before take off into a storm on Thursday.
Wasting no time, the meeting ended and the team began a mission into what started out as a tropical storm, but gradually became a hurricane while the team was in mid-air.
As the plane flew closer to the storm, crew and passengers could feel its wrath.
"We noticed the winds a little bit stronger. We noticed the pressure a little bit lower. From our prospective the bumpiness of the ride is about the same. It's about routine. But we did notice it was gradually increasing," said Ragusa.
In the cockpit, Lt. Col. Ragusa, another pilot and three navigators watched radar translate into powerful winds and white caps below. But just behind them a sonde is launched into rough Gulf waters several times.
From the center of the storm, the sonde collects data on everything from atmospheric pressure, to wind speeds and humidity for meteorologist Tobi Baker. Shortly after launching the device, the crew recorded wind speeds in the air as high as 77 knots and 70 knots on the surface of the water.
By 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center received enough information from Air Force Reservists to upgrade Hermine to a hurricane.
"We've already gone through the storm a couple times already. They already had enough evidence at the time to upgrade the storm to a hurricane," said Baker.
The growing storm created more turbulence than normal and made hunting the hurricane harder.
"Just finding the center you could tell along the ride a lot of turns left and right, trying to find right where the center of that storm is," said Ragusa.
A few hours later the plane prepares for landing ending a mission on what the Hurricane Hunters considered a success.
"Today was a good mission. Regularly routine in that we had a standard crew on board and a good plan to go into it. A little bit shorter than other missions, which is great. We were out there for about 7.8 hours. Interesting for the crew in that we got to be out there while it was upgraded to a hurricane," Regusa added.
There are only 12 planes in the world allowed to fly into hurricanes and 10 of them are at Keesler. The other two are formed by NOAA for research.
Going at a rate of three miles a minute, the Hurricane Hunters plane travels about 220 miles per hour, 5,000 feet in the air. The WC-130J's burn roughly 5,000 pounds of fuel an hour during each mission. The sondes cost about $500 a piece and are biodegradable, breaking apart shortly after hitting salt water.
NASA also made a special flight to learn about Hermine, but well above the system.
The information the Hurricane Hunters send out helps other agencies better understand the strength and direction of storm systems. The flights help save millions of dollars for taxpayers because agencies on the ground won't spend money preparing for a storm that will likely not hit.