(WWBT) - From August until late October is what Air Force pilot Maj. Alex Boykin calls “hunting season.”
But when he takes to the skies, the Richmond native isn’t after deer or elk. His quarry is something much, much bigger: monster storms.
“We are storm hunters,” Boykin said.
Boykin is a pilot known as a Storm Hunter with the 53D Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Similar to a storm tracker who tracks storms from the ground level, storm hunter pilots like Boykin are tasked with flying towards tropical storms and hurricanes as they develop.
“They’re all these clouds, you can see rain and some lighting coming off and then you punch through the eye wall and it clears right up,” Boykin said. “It’s a pretty unique thing to see.”
Since Hurricane Dorian first developed, Boykin has flown through the storm six times. At one point, Boykin even flew through the weather system when it was a category 5 storm.
“We flew around all night looking for that low pressure center, and that was the very first time the National Weather Service was able to get a fix on what that storm was doing and where it was,” Boykin said.
These pilots use state-of-the-art turbo propeller aircraft built to sustain large hurricanes, targeting the eye of the storms with each mission.
“I’ve been able to see Dorian basically through all of it’s phases of life so far," Boykin said. “So each day or evening that we went up, the storm was different.”
Each time Boykin breaks through to the center of the hurricane, potentially life-saving data are collected and then relayed to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which helps forecasters to more accurately predict the path and severity of the storm.
“With the data we collect, they can then tell if it’s turning, not turning, going faster, slowing down, etc,” Boykin said.
Boykin said storm hunting is crucial because the data collected could make a huge difference in how states in the path of the hurricane respond.
“It’s just such a stressful thing to be in the path of a storm, and every time we go up we make those models a little bit better,” Boykin said. “We make that data a little bit tighter, and knowing that we’re doing that is why we do this.”
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