Lee’s monstrous eye wall captured on electric video by Hurricane Hunters
The USAF Hurricane Hunters are giving us a front row seat to the horror and fury of the brutal Category 5 Hurricane Lee.
Thursday night, the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew into the Ein Li wall during a period of rapid intensification, unsure of the storm’s strength.
“We knew it was going to be strong and develop further, but we didn’t know it was going to be a category five,” said Lt. Col. Mark Withey, a navigator who flew into the center of the hurricane. , an experience that only a few people on Earth can relate to.
Inside the flying lab used by NOAA’s hurricane hunters
However, a Category 5 storm is exactly what his team found when they flew into the storm and made four passes through the eyewall, Withey told FOX Weather.
“Obviously there was a lot of convection and lightning last night, but we managed to get off safely,” he added.
Crews witness the “stadium effect” of Hurricane Lee
Aircraft from the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron were able to document the powerful storm, with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph. It was an 80 mph explosion just the night before.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said hurricane hunters fly into tropical systems to collect atmospheric data for accurate weather models. They map the center of the storm to determine direction, speed, pressure and intensity, which improves forecasting.
How Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo chase tornadoes
On this trip, the crew observed a “pitch effect” in the eye of Hurricane Lee, a phenomenon that occurs in very intense hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The eyewall’s towering cloud layers amidst the clear center give the feeling of being in the middle of the field.
Flying into Lee on Thursday, Withy noticed the absence of moonlight, requiring the crew to rely solely on radar for guidance in the dark.
“But once we were in the eye of the storm, it was mostly dark, except for the frequent lightning that would flash and shine, so we could see it farther than the radar image was showing,” he said.
Hurricane Lee is rapidly intensifying to a severe Category 5 storm as it races across the Atlantic Ocean
As they move through the eyewall, Withey said they carefully look for any potential hazards. Meanwhile, the meteorologist at the back of the plane uses his instruments to steer the plane toward the center of the storm with minimal pressure and spin.
Hurricane Lee LIVE TRACKER: Space spaghetti computer models, cone of anxiety and more
Withey said his crew is expected to set out again at 5 a.m. Saturday to track Lee’s progress. The storm is currently expected to move far north of the northern Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico over the coming weekend and early next week. But the potential path of East Coast impacts remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, waves from Lee will hit the Lesser Antilles on Friday and the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas and Bermuda this weekend.
The National Hurricane Center warns that these swells will likely cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to begin along much of the U.S. East Coast starting Sunday.