SCIENCE

Why Can You Fly Into A Hurricane, But Not A Thunderstorm?

02/18/2015 12:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2015

When flying, pilots avoid thunderstorms like the plague. Yet, so-called "Hurricane Hunters" have no problem flying straight into hurricanes. How can this be?

In short, it all boils down to the type of wind pilots face in either scenario. In the case of a hurricane, a pilot navigates through a “stratified area of horizontal winds,” which allows for a relatively smooth ride.

Pilots flying in a thunderstorm, on the other hand, are faced with “strong vertical winds,” going upward and downward, which can cause turbulence and other issues.

Just check out a new video (above) from The Weather Channel, which explains the difference between flying in the two weather conditions.

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hurricane

“Thunderstorms are sort of the grandaddy of all aviation hazards because they sort of contain it all,” Dr. Bruce Carmichael, who runs the Aviation Applications Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Wired. “Turbulence, severe structural icing, engine icing, loss of visibility, lightning, wind shear, extreme updrafts and downdrafts. So virtually any hazard to aviation you can imagine.”

Hurricane flights, in contrast, are “fairly boring,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “They last 10 hours, there are clouds above you and clouds below -- so all you see is gray, and you don't feel the winds swirling around the hurricane.”

According to the Hurricane Hunters of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, aircrews that conducts flights into hurricanes to collect data, there are typically only a “few ‘exciting’ moments” during a hurricane flight -- and they occur when the plane enters the eye wall area of a hurricane, which is a donut-like ring of thunderstorms around the hurricane's calm eye where the most intense rainfall and damaging winds are found.

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