POLITICS

"Most pilots turn the other way": American hurricane hunter

05/03/2015 04:43 EDT | Updated 05/03/2016 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - Maj. Ivan Deroche is from a family of military pilots, but he has taken his career in a unique direction — straight into the eye of a hurricane.

"Most pilots turn the other way and don't go through the nasty weather," said Deroche.

"That's our job."

Deroche is a hurricane hunter with 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, based in Biloxi, Miss.

The pilot and his fellow crew members were in Halifax on Sunday for the only Canadian stop on an awareness tour ahead of this year's hurricane season.

Standing on the tarmac alongside a beast of a WC-130J aircraft, fitted with specialized meteorological equipment, Deroche explained how his job takes him to the centre of a hurricane.

"We fly right through the middle of the storm. We don't go around the periphery or go over it or above it. We go right through the middle," he said.

"That's how we get the real-time data."

That data is crucial to helping Canadians prepare for dangerous weather, said Steve Miller, manager of Environment Canada's Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre in Halifax.

To track storms heading into Canada, the centre receives data from the hurricane hunter aircraft through a partnership with the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Florida.

"One of the most important things in hurricane forecasting is figuring out where it is initially, and it's not that easy," Miller said.

Miller says while satellite imagery is useful, you can learn much more about a hurricane by sending a plane straight into it.

"When it flies right into the eye of the storm, it measures the pressure and it knows exactly where the centre of that storm is."

The U.S. Air Force Reserve has 10 weather aircraft like the WC-130J in Halifax on Sunday, each with research equipment, extra fuel tanks for long missions and a meteorologist as part of the crew.

"You need someone that can interpret the data and who knows what we need to look at and where we need to go," said Maj. Nicole Mitchell, a hurricane team meteorologist.

Mitchell says while the prospect of flying into a storm might seem frightening to some people, she sees it as an adventure.

"For me you just have to trust your crew and trust your plane."

Pilots like Deroche are tasked with safely bringing the aircraft through the most intense storms, and making multiple passes through each one.

"Just because you saw it the first time and it was an easy ride through, that doesn't mean the second time through the storm Mother Nature won't grab a hold of you and shake you up really bad," said Deroche.

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