Hurricane Hunters Release Spectacular Footage of Flight Into Dorian's 40-Mile-Wide Eye

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released spectacular footage of its Hurricane Hunters flying into the eye of Dorian as it churned 50-60 miles off the coast of South Carolina on Thursday.

The footage was shot by Lt. Kevin Doremus from the cockpit of the NOAA aircraft, affectionately referred to as "Kermit"—a four-engine Lockheed WP-3D Orion.

Using Kermit and another WP-3D, dubbed "Miss Piggy," NOAA aircraft have conducted regular flights into Dorian, collecting key data which helps forecasters to make predictions and better understand the storm. These planes measure pressure changes, wind speed, humidity and other factors over long, grueling missions which can last more than 12 hours.

Cockpit video from inside the eye of Hurricane #Dorian from today's flight off the coast of South Carolina. Continue to monitor for the latest updates and advisories. #FlyNOAA

Credit: Lt. Kevin Doremus, NOAA

— NOAA Aircraft Operations Center (@NOAA_HurrHunter) September 5, 2019

In the clip, the plane punches through the powerful winds and driving rain of the eyewall before emerging into the relative calm of the eye itself where skies are clearer.

"The eye varied in size on this flight from about 40 to 50 miles in diameter," Doremus told Newsweek. "The eye was much smaller in all of the previous flights into the storm, sometimes as small as 5 miles."

It has now grown to more than 60 miles, The Washington Post reported as the storm increased in size, with hurricane-force and tropical-storm-force winds now extending outward up to 45 and 220 miles from the center respectively.

Earlier on Thursday, NOAA Hurricane Hunter Nick Underwood posted another video of an NOAA plane flying into Dorian's eye, in which the famous "stadium effect" can be clearly seen.

#Dorian still has an incredible stadium effect eye. #NOAA42

— Tropical Nick Underwood (@TheAstroNick) September 5, 2019

The eyes of hurricanes and other tropical cyclones are often characterized by the so-called "stadium effect"—where the clouds of the eyewall are curved in a way that resembles an arena.

While flying through the eyewall of a hurricane—where winds are the strongest—may sound incredibly dangerous, the NOAA says that planes are not usually destroyed by strong winds while in flight.

"Airliners routinely fly in jet streams with winds exceeding 150 miles per hour over the U.S. during the winter," the NOAA explained in an FAQ. "It's the shear, or sudden change in horizontal or vertical winds, that can destroy an aircraft, or cause its loss of control."

"That's why NOAA's Hurricane Hunter aircraft don't fly through tornadoes. In a like manner, NOAA pilots and crew routinely—but never casually—fly in the high-wind environment of the hurricane and don't fear it tearing the plane apart," the explanation read. "However, they are always monitoring for 'hot spots' of severe weather and shear that they can often identify on radar and avoid if it's too severe."

Doremus said that the storm was relatively easy to fly through on September 5 when he captured the video above.

"It was slowly deteriorating from a Category 3 to a Category 2 and there was not a lot of the up and down drafts that we see in a stronger Category 4 or Category 5 or a rapidly intensifying storm," he said. "We have seen Dorian all the way from a tropical depression to a Category 5, and this was by far the smoothest flight of them all. Pervious flights into the storm a few days before were much more dynamic and required significantly more effort."

As of 5 a.m. EDT on Friday, Dorian was located around 25 miles east of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90 miles per hour. It is moving northeast at around 14 miles per hour and this general motion is expected through Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

"On the forecast track, the center of Dorian will move near or over the coast of North Carolina during the next several hours," an NHC statement read. "The center should move to the southeast of extreme southeastern New England tonight and Saturday morning, and then across Nova Scotia late Saturday or Saturday night."

"Dorian should remain a powerful hurricane as it moves near or along the coast of North Carolina during the next several hours. [It] is forecast to become a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds by Saturday night as it approaches Nova Scotia," the statement read.

This article was updated with additional comments from Kevin Doremus.

NOAA Hurricane Hunter, Kermit
The NOAA Lockheed WP-3D Orion N42RF, also known as "Kermit," taking off from Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 18, 2017. Lt. Kevin Doremus / NOAA