Hurricane Hunter Buzzes Galveston

For a quarter century NOAA pilots have flown hurricane hunter airplanes into Gulf Coast storms. Hurricane season isn't here yet, but one of those planes is in Galveston on a special mission. Laurie Johnson has more.

It's a beautiful day in Galveston. Waves are crashing and sparkling under blue skies and cool breezes. On a day like this, it's nearly impossible to picture a fierce hurricane hitting the island.

But that's the scenario Bill Proenza wants you to imagine.

"We have to err on the side of caution. We simply have to make sure that we get ourselves out of harm's way because the science can't be that fine-tuned at this time. We have a lot to learn yet."

Proenza is the Southern Region director for the National Weather Service. He's here along with the crew of a P-3 Hurricane Hunter. They're letting the public tour the aircraft as part of an awareness outreach to coastal communities. Electronics Technician Dana Naeher shows a group of students how everything on the plane is strapped down for safety.

"If you guys look up over here, there's this big dent in the bar here. This actually happened when they were penetrating Hurricane Hugo. If you look behind you there used to be a liferaft that sat right there and it actually broke the straps and it came up here and hit that. So the forces you feel inside the aircraft are very dangerous so we want to make sure everything is strapped down safe for us." [Student] "Has like a plane ever crashed in a hurricane?" [Naeher] "No, we haven't lost any of the planes in a hurricane."

The inside of the plane is pretty cool. There are a lot of gadgets and computer screens and orange safety vests all over the place. National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read says showing off the plane is another opportunity to remind people in the Houston region to be prepared.

"Forget the forecast. Some of the most active seasons have not had any higher incidence of landfall and some of the weak seasons have had huge landfalls. In 1992 there was only six storms -- Andrew, $40 billion in damage. 1983, four storms -- Alicia, in today's dollars I'm sure it's over $6 billion in damage from that. So trying to play the numbers game on the season and match that to what happens to you yourself is a mistake."

Read says he knows people have heard the readiness message before. But every year there are still thousands of people who aren't prepared for the next big storm. And he hopes each of these visits and tours will prompt at least one more person to be ready.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...