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Atmospheric rivers also part of Hurricane Hunters mission

Atmospheric rivers, giant tubes of water vapor over the Pacific Ocean, are part of what the Hurricane Hunters explore.
Published: May. 6, 2022 at 5:01 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Atmospheric rivers, giant tubes of water vapor over the Pacific Ocean, are part of what the Hurricane Hunters explore when they’re not investigating tropical weather.

We know them as the Hurricane Hunters, but they do a lot more than just head out into the Gulf or Atlantic and make eyewall penetrations.

“It’s pretty much year round, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” said Lt. Col. Sean Cross. “The west coast event is the biggest thing now and that’s atmospheric rivers. It crosses into our tropical season in the month of November. We really start kicking off on the west coast in early February and March.”

Cross has flown through numerous storms, from weak tropical depressions to monster category five hurricanes. He says one recent memory is the eyewall penetration into Hurricane Michael as it made landfall in Florida back in 2018.

“That was one of the most powerful storms to hit the Gulf of Mexico basin,” Cross said. “It gained strength every inch of the way as it moved north across the Gulf. You can fly around for 3-4 hours and never feel a bump, but you just never know when you’ll hit the brick wall, and that day on Hurricane Michael, we were in the eye, and that northern eyewall was already on land. We could see the storm surge pushing and knocking down trees at Tyndall AFB near Mexico Beach. I can tell you it was the most memorable ride of my career in all the years I’ve been doing this.”

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