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What it is like to fly into a hurricane from 8,000 feet in the air

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What did Hurricane Ian sound like at 8,000 feet in the air when it hit Florida?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICK UNDERWOOD: We're all right. We're all right.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Nick Underwood. He flies into hurricanes for a living. And he got a close-up look at this latest storm earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNDERWOOD: Oh, there goes the signs. There goes the beds. Holy cow.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Underwood is a hurricane hunter with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - or NOAA.

UNDERWOOD: The data that we are collecting absolutely affects forecast models, absolutely affects whether evacuation orders get issued or not. And so having that knowledge really just - you know, it's a heavy thing.

FADEL: He's been flying into hurricanes for six years. And he says Ian was especially rough.

UNDERWOOD: We get to the eyewall, which is the worst part of the storm, and it just keeps going for what felt like forever.

MARTIN: Which is normal. Flights like this always have a lot of turbulence. But Underwood says Ian was extreme.

UNDERWOOD: With this storm, for whatever reason, there was a lot of lateral motion, and so a lot of getting tossed side to side.

MARTIN: Even so, Nick Underwood says these flights can be breathtaking.

UNDERWOOD: Especially with the more powerful storms, usually the Category 3s and above. You get what's called that stadium effect, where you're sort of just in the bottom of this big bowl with the cloud tops around you, you know, rising up. And that is certainly beautiful to look at. But it's one thing to sit there and appreciate it. And then, you know, your thoughts also drift to, oh, man, in some cases, this is going to go hit somebody's house.

FADEL: Hurricane Ian provided a unique opportunity to try out an experimental uncrewed aerial system that collects data from areas too dangerous for people to fly into.

UNDERWOOD: Like into lower altitudes in the storm, into more violent parts of the eyewall - places like that where it's like, we look at that on a radar and we say, no, thank you.

FADEL: Underwood says this work is all about collecting data and relaying messages that can help the people thousands of feet below trying to survive the storms, people who are now trying to rebuild their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF CODES IN THE CLOUDS' "WASHINGTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.