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NOAA Hurricane Hunter Pilot Captures Katrina At Her Meanest

September 2, 2005
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
NOAA hurricane hunter P-3 and Gulfstream IV aircraft conducted ten long flights into and around the eye of Hurricane Katrina. Lt. Mike Silah, a P-3 pilot, got to see Hurricane Katrina up close and personal, especially when she was an extremely dangerous Category Five storm in the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA image of Hurricane Katrina’s tight eyewall as seen from a NOAA P-3 hurricane hunter aircraft on Aug. 28, 2005, before the storm made landfall in the U.S. Gulf Coast. The NOAA P-3's propeller in visible in the foreground.
Credit: Image courtesy of National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

NOAA hurricane hunter WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV aircraftconducted ten long flights into and around the eye of HurricaneKatrina. Lt. Mike Silah, a P-3 pilot, got to see Hurricane Katrina upclose and personal, especially when she was an extremely dangerousCategory Five storm in the Gulf of Mexico. The day before the powerfuland destructive storm made landfall on the USA Gulf Coast, Silahsnapped a series of images capturing the eyewall of Katrina.

Silah is a NOAA Corps officer based at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center in Tampa, Fla.

Meanwhile, NOAA has quickly mobilized a wide-range of its resourcesimmediately following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the U.S. GulfCoast. NOAA ships, planes and many experts are helping to assess thedamage caused by the powerful storm that is responsible for widespreaddestruction and loss of life.

NOAA pre-positioned Navigational Response Teams, or NRTs, which aremobile emergency response units equipped and trained to survey portsand nearby shore waterways immediately following the hurricane. Theseteams can be rapidly transported on a trailer and launched from themfor a quick response. This is especially vital to New Orleans, La., andMobile, Ala., two of the nation's major commercial ports. The NOAAOffice of Coast Survey, working in partnership with the U.S. CoastGuard, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and local port management willbe coordinating the response.

The Navigational Response Teams use multibeam, sidescan sonars anddiving operations to check the port, river or sea bottom for submergedobstructions that could cause hazards to shipping.

The NOAA National Geodetic Survey is using a NOAA plane to takeaerial surveys of the impacted areas to assess for damage from erosion,such as occurred to the levees and major evacuation routes. Theseimages will assist both in recovery operations, and long-termrestoration and rebuilding decisions. The images will be made availableto the public on a NOAA Web site on Wednesday.

The NOAA Office of Response and Restoration and Damage AssessmentCenter is deploying NOAA scientists and other specialists—incoordination with federal, state and local emergency centers—to assistin evaluating the damages to the many oil and chemical pipelines andplatforms in the region.

Water levels, storm surges and flooding are a concern, and NOAAstaff is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security andFEMA to coordinate the flow of appropriate information and data thatwill guide deployment of resources.

NOAA Hurricane Hunter Flies Day and Night Missions in Hurricane Katrina

The NOAA Gulfstream IV high-altitude surveillance jet flew sixfull-endurance missions and the WP-3D Orion flew four missions tosupport the track and intensity forecasting efforts of NOAA’s NationalCenters for Environmental Prediction and National Hurricane Center.Starting with the first mission when Katrina was still a tropical stormin the eastern Bahamas, the crew flew daily between August 24 andAugust 28, using dropwindsondes to measure the environment surroundingthe growing tropical cyclone. While conducting five daily missions andone overnight flight—when Katrina grew strongest and made the criticalturn toward the Gulf Coast, the jet flew a total of 49.7 hours in fivedays. The NOAA crew launched 153 dropwindsondes covering 21,015nautical miles of flight track.

Data from the Gulfstream IV, quality assured while aboard theaircraft, was fed by satellite communication directly into the primaryNOAA forecasting computer models. These data helped the NOAA NationalHurricane Center to first catch Katrina's turn toward the southwest asshe reached hurricane strength just before the South Florida landfall.

The G-IV continued its storm coverage as the tropical cyclonere-emerged into the Gulf of Mexico and detected perfect atmosphericconditions surrounding the storm for rapid development. As Katrinareached Category Five hurricane status, the NOAA jet used dropwinsondecoverage to help the NOAA National Hurricane Center accurately definethe range of hurricane and tropical storm force winds, while adding tothe accuracy of the forecasted position and time of landfall on thenorthern Gulf Coast.

A full 60 hours out, the NOAA National Hurricane Center, assisted bythese reports, had the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area well within thecone of strike probability. Twenty-four hours prior to landfall, thecenter of the forecasted track was approximately 15 miles off theactual track, and 12 hours prior, the forecasted track was less than 10miles off. At approximately 7:10 a.m. EDT, Hurricane Katrina madelandfall in southern Plaquemines Parish, La., just south of Buras, as aCategory Four hurricane with maximum winds estimated at 140 mph to theeast of the center.


NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated toenhancing economic security and national safety through the predictionand research of weather and climate-related events and providingenvironmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

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National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. "NOAA Hurricane Hunter Pilot Captures Katrina At Her Meanest." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 September 2005. <>.
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. (2005, September 2). NOAA Hurricane Hunter Pilot Captures Katrina At Her Meanest. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. "NOAA Hurricane Hunter Pilot Captures Katrina At Her Meanest." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 24, 2017).