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In the eye of Hurricane Irma

  POSTED ON: Thursday, September 7, 2017 2:21 PM by MIDN 1/C Casey Densmore

Three first class midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Oceanography Department are having the experience of a lifetime flying with the U.S. Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (53rd WRS) "Hurricane Hunters" through the eye of Category 5 Hurricane Irma. MIDN 1/C Casey Densmore, Kelli Wise, and Rachel Boushon (all oceanography majors), under the leadership of CAPT Elizabeth Sanabia, USN, Ph.D. of the USNA Oceanography Department, are collecting oceanic data beneath the storm while the 53rd WRS crew gathers atmospheric data. Both the oceanic and atmospheric data contribute to Hurricane Irma's track and intensity forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Hurricane Irma is among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic basin with surface winds approaching 185 mph.

The midshipmen deploy Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs (AXBTs), which are single-use, air-launched buoys that measure temperature in the upper several hundred meters of the ocean. The data is processed onboard the 53rd WRS's WC-130J aircraft and subsequently disseminated to several agencies to incorporate into numerical models predicting the storm's strength and path. In addition, the data is saved for future research into oceanic processes that affect tropical cyclones. 

"Flying through the eye of Hurricane Irma was one of the most jaw-dropping experiences in my life," MIDN 1/C Densmore said of his first mission through the storm. "Inside the eye everything suddenly calms, even in the aircraft. The turbulence subsides to smooth flight, and dark clouds transition quickly to blue sky above us and a gorgeous wall of clouds looming thousands of feet above our aircraft on every side. It is amazing to think that such a beautiful, serene looking cloud formation is responsible for some of the most inhospitable weather conditions on the planet." The photograph above was taken by MIDN 1/C Densmore inside the eye of Hurricane Irma.

The midshipmen will fly several more missions through Irma, continuing to collect valuable data as the storm approaches the United States. The flight schedule is available on the NHC website at by clicking on the "Plan of the Day" link. Updates will be posted periodically to the USNA Oceanography Department's Facebook page at

CAPT Elizabeth Sanabia, USN, CDR Keith Thompson, USN, and Alexander R. Davies of the USNA Oceanography Department contributed to this article.

Category: General Interest, Research

Press Contact

Alexander R. Davies
Oceanography Department, USNA