Hurricane hunter visits RDU

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's P-3 Orion hurricane hunter flies into the heart of the massive tropical weather systems gathering important information that helps meteorologists with the National Hurricane Center in Florida predict where a storm might be headed so they can warn people to get out of the way.

The plane is visiting RDU 2009 Hurricane Awareness Tour and 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, North Carolina's worst disaster. It will also stop in Wilmington.

NOAA uses a team of aircraft to track storms. They have the Orions and smaller Gulfstream IV jets. The Orion can actually fly through the eyewall of a hurricane - buffeted by howling winds, blinding rain, hail, and violent updrafts and downdrafts before entering the relative calm of the storm's eye.

During the flight, scientists use sensitive instruments on board like a big radar dome built into the belly of the plane, and they also drop special probes that measure pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed as they fall toward the sea, providing a detailed look at the structure of the storm and its intensity.

The grueling and risky flights can last up to 10 hours, but the information they gather is plugged into the National Hurricane Center's all important computer models and that show where a storm is headed.

The public can get a rare look inside the aircraft Wednesday. It'll be open to public tours at RDU's general aviation terminal from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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