The NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft investigating Hurricane Felix last night aborted the mission after reporting extreme turbulence and graupel (soft hail). The plane had just flown through the eye of Felix and reported 175 mph winds at a flight level of 10,000 ft and measured surface winds of 187 mph although the surface wind report is somewhat in question.
Let us not forget what happened during Hurricane Janet in 1955. Lt. Commander Grover B. Windham was the commander of a Navy Neptune Hurricane Hunter plane. Also onboard were eight crewmen and two newspapermen. At 8:30 am EST on September 26th, about 200 miles south of Jamaica, they reported that they were about to begin penetration of the main core of the hurricane. That was the last report ever received from this plane. Janet was a rapidly intensifying hurricane with winds estimated at 160 miles per hour.
There have been three other fatal hurricane flights in west Pacific typhoons in 1952, 1958 and 1974.
We should never take the NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunters for granted. They provide a tremendous service to our Nation’s Hurricane Warning Program.