Hurricane Hunter Gets an Insider's View of Katrina

September 16, 2005

By the time Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, meteorologist Chris Landsea had become very familiar with the deadly storm.

Landsea, a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, made four flights aboard a "hurricane hunter" aircraft into Katrina between August 25 and August 29.

NOAA meteorologists fly into hurricanes aboard specially equipped aircraft to determine a storm's intensity, direction of travel, likelihood of strengthening, and other data.

Hurricane Katrina began August 23 as a tropical depression near the Bahamas. As it moved westward it strengthened into a hurricane.

The storm made landfall August 25 on the southeast Florida coast as a Category One hurricane with winds of about 80 miles an hour (130 kilometers an hour).

Landsea made his first flight into Katrina as it was coming ashore near his home in Miami, Florida, making his interest in the storm that night a little more personal than usual.

"The first flight was a little nerve-wracking," he said. "The storm was rapidly intensifying, and it was likely to become stronger quickly if it didn't hit land soon. It went right over my house."

Trees felled by the storm killed two people in southeast Florida.

Gathering Strength

The storm then crossed the Florida peninsula and emerged into the Gulf of Mexico in the early hours of August 26. Katrina began to strengthen almost from the moment it touched the Gulf's warm waters.

A hurricane draws its energy from warm water and warm humid air. Its power is diminished by cooler water and upper level winds—known as wind shear—that can hinder the storm's development or tear it apart.

Landsea was flying into the intensifying storm as it churned across the Gulf. It quickly became clear that Katrina was going to turn into a monster hurricane, he says.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.