Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe
The Atmosphere and the Oceans
WebQuest Projects 1
Hurricane Hunting: Flights into Danger and Discovery
A hurricane churns in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Haiti. With sustained
winds over 115 miles per hour and barometric pressure readings hovering around
945 millibars, meteorologists with the National Hurricane Center are concerned.
Is this storm poised to strike the United States? How intense will it be when
it makes landfall? Will evacuations be necessary, and if so, in what specific
parts of the East Coast? While meteorologists can make predictions of this type
from the ground with some degree of accuracy, the potential financial and human
costs demand the most current, precise information possible – information
from the inside of the hurricane. Who do forecasters call? The hurricane hunters.
These brave pilots and crew members fly into storms so intense that the wings
of the plane are obscured by clouds and blinding rain. As the plane is buffeted
by hurricane-force winds, crew members are strapped into their seats to prevent
ending up horizontal on the cabin ceiling. Flying missions can last from eight
to ten hours, while meteorologists and engineers on these “flying weather
stations” collect data relayed directly to the National Hurricane Center.
The measurements help meteorologists understand how a storm is developing, and
how intense it will be when it makes landfall. A hurricane hunter’s job
is dangerous, but incredibly important. As National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration pilot Captain David Tennesen put it, “We’re here
to save lives and property.”
Hurricane warnings are issued to pinpoint areas which could be affected by
high winds, heavy rain, and flooding. Advance warnings allow time for purchasing
supplies, protecting property, or evacuating to safer locations. Millions of
people and hundreds of millions of dollars in property can be threatened by
a single hurricane approaching the coast. The data collected by hurricane hunters
as they fly through these storms help forecasters make credible, life-saving
decisions. In this WebQuest, you will explore the job of a hurricane hunter,
and learn what it is like to fly through some of the largest and most intense
storms on the planet.
Your task in this WebQuest is to learn about the challenges, rewards, and excitement
of being of a hurricane hunter. You will learn who hurricane hunters are, how
they work together during missions to gather weather data, and what it is like
to fly through a solid ring of violent thunderstorms into the eye of a hurricane.
Answering a series of questions about hurricanes and how hurricane hunters study
these storms will guide your research about the topic. Reading the stories and
viewing photographs will give insight into the unique perspectives of these
brave men and women. You will use the information you gather to create a scrapbook
which chronicles what it is like to be a hurricane hunter. The purpose of this
scrapbook is to provide information about the important role hurricane hunters
play in protecting lives and property in the path of these gigantic storms.
The Web sites given here will help you answer questions about hurricanes and
how they are studied by hurricane hunters. The information you gather will help
you create a scrapbook that shows what is like to be a hurricane hunter.
This is a large site with much to explore. Meteorologists answer questions about
hurricanes ranging from “Why isn’t your plane torn apart?”
to “How do I become a hurricane hunter?” Lots of information is
available about the characteristics of hurricanes. Multiple photograph galleries
can be accessed from this site, as well as exciting, true stories from hurricane
This site has over 50 images taken by a hurricane hunter during flight. The
frequently asked questions page describes how and why aircraft are used to study
Visit this National Weather Service site to see current satellite imagery spanning
the globe. The site outlines plans for upcoming aircraft reconnaissance missions.
A wealth of information, including an explanation of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane
Scale and a history of the deadliest and most expensive storms to strike the
U.S. is provided.
Aircraft and instruments used by hurricane hunters, including the GPS Dropsonde,
are highlighted at this site which also includes photographs of National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration Aircraft Operations personnel at work. The site
offers links to news stories about hurricane hunters.
Read about Army Air Forces Colonel Joseph Duckworth, the first pilot to intentionally
fly into a hurricane in 1943, becoming the world’s first “hurricane
hunter.” The article describes a typical mission flown by hurricane hunters.
Visit this site to read about the Lockhead P-3 research aircraft used by National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pilots to fly through hurricanes.
Learn about the aircraft that make it possible for hurricane hunters to fly
into and collect data about tropical storms.
This site offers satellite images, hurricane tracking charts, and a quiz to
see just how prepared you are to be a hurricane hunter. It also features an
“Image of the Day” showing a current tropical system.
Read the article at this site to learn why and how people fly into hurricanes.
This site offers a unique historical perspective on personnel who have served
on hurricane hunting aircraft over the years.
This site includes a description of the job of a hurricane hunter, as well as
photographs of hurricane hunters at work.
Learn how weather data are collected and used by the special types of aircraft
flown by hurricane hunters.
1-2 weeks to answer the question set and design and produce the scrapbook.
Read the following series of questions before beginning your research. As you
explore each Web site, look for answers to the questions.
Questions about Hurricanes and Hurricane Hunting
- Satellites are used to gather information about hurricanes from space. Since
it is possible to learn about these storms without endangering any lives during
risky flights, why do hurricane hunters continue to fly through hurricanes
to gather information?
- Who was the first person to fly directly into a hurricane on purpose? Explain
when this flight took place, and what motivated this pilot to attempt it.
- Hurricane hunters belong to one of two major government-sponsored groups.
Identify these groups, and give the location of their bases in the United
- Describe the types of weather data that are gathered during a hurricane
hunting mission. List some of the equipment that is used to record measurements
about the storm.
- What is a dropsonde? Explain the importance of this piece of equipment to
- Hurricanes are rated using an instrument called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane
Scale. Information collected by hurricane hunters helps staff at the National
Hurricane Center classify a storm based on its intensity. Describe this rating
scale and explain how it works.
- Describe a typical hurricane hunting mission. What is it like to fly through
the eyewall into the eye of a hurricane?
- Have there ever been any planes lost while on hurricane hunting missions?
If so, how many crew members were killed during those missions?
Next, visit the Web sites listed. Use the information from your research to
answers to the questions. As you study the sites, look for ideas and photographs
you can use to create a scrapbook which chronicles the job of a hurricane hunter.
The scrapbook should include photographs, so remember to bookmark or print images
as you research the topic. Images might include photographs showing conditions
inside a hurricane, hurricane hunting aircraft, equipment, and personnel, and
satellite images of storms.
Finally, create a scrapbook which chronicles the challenges and excitement
of being a hurricane hunter. The scrapbook should include information about
hurricanes, as well as photographs, descriptions, quotes, and interesting stories
from hurricane hunting missions. Try to include scrapbook pages which include,
in both visual and verbal form, as many of the following items as possible:
- the job description of a hurricane hunter
- the first official hurricane hunter, and a description of what prompted
him to make that first, historic flight into a hurricane
- the exterior and interior of aircraft used to fly hurricane hunting
- the types of instruments used to collect data aboard hurricane hunting
- a description of what it is like to fly through a hurricane, into
the eye of the storm, and out again on the other side
- quotes or interesting stories from hurricane hunters
- a memorial page for crewmen lost during hurricane hunting missions
- the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Rating Scale
- satellite, photograph, or storm track images from the most intense
or expensive hurricanes to make landfall in the United States (labeled by
name and date)
The scrapbook you create should be visually appealing, while including information
about hurricanes and how they are studied by hurricane hunters. Use photographs,
quotes, and interesting stories and facts to convey information. Be sure to
give credit for any photographs, diagrams, stories, or quotes used in creating
the scrapbook somewhere within the book.
While completing this WebQuest, you have learned about the job of a hurricane
hunter. You have investigated some characteristics of hurricanes, and learned
how crew members on hurricane hunting aircraft collect data about these storms.
You have read interesting accounts of what it is like to fly through the eyewall
of a hurricane and into the eye of the storm. By gathering information to answer
questions about these topics, you have increased your knowledge about the important
function hurricane hunters perform. You have used your research , writing, and
creative skills to create a scrapbook which shows what it is like to be a hurricane
hunter. The scrapbook you have created can be used to help others learn more
about this dangerous but necessary vocation.