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Flying Through Hurricanes
Who are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The student thinking about El Niño. The scientist studying climate. And the farmer looking at satellite pictures. All of these people are Earth Explorers. They're all curious about how the Earth works. This is a story about NASA Earth Explorers.

Picture of Robbie Hood and Mark Corlew in the NASA DC-8 aircraft
Image above: Robbie Hood and crew member Mark Corlew on an aircraft used to fly into hurricanes
Credit: NASA
Flying through a hurricane isn't as scary as it sounds. At least that's what Robbie Hood says. Hood is a NASA scientist. She's flown on airplanes into the middle of hurricanes.

"The view out of the aircraft windows can be somewhat boring," Hood said. "The aircraft is often flying through clouds so there is not much to see."

Hood looks at her computer instead of out the window. Sensors on the plane send data about the storm to the computer.

The data is used to study and predict hurricanes. Knowing where a storm is going and how strong it will be is important. It can prevent damage and save lives.

But why send an airplane into the center of a fierce storm? Can't satellites just look at it from space?

Image of Hurricane Bonnie
Image above: Hurricane Bonnie, seen here from the NOAA-12 satellite, is one of several hurricanes Robbie Hood has flown through
Credit: NASA
The airplane and satellite data together gives a more detailed view of how hurricanes work. Hood says it's like "putting the storm under a microscope."

Hood admits she does peek out the window every so often. Especially when a break in the clouds lets her see the lower part of the storm.

This is when she can see many different cloud types. "It's like seeing every cloud you could imagine all in one place," Hood said.

Hood has been interested in weather since she was a kid. She grew up on a cattle farm and saw the many effects of weather. Her family was also in Mississippi in 1969. That's when Hurricane Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast. Seeing that kind of damage made a big impression on her.

Hood is also drawn to hurricanes because they are like people. They have names, personalities, and each one is different. And they don't always behave like we expect them to.
See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Coming in June: Meet the scientists from NASA's upcoming Aura mission.

Related Resources

NASA's Airborne Science Lab

Dan Stillman
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies