The Hurricane Hunter: When Others Flee From Dangerous Storms, Commander Scott Price ’99 Flies Into Them

A pilot for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Price gathers essential data for weather forecasts and scientific research in the most dangerous conditions
January 15th, 2018 by 

Commander Price stands in front of the aircraft he flies, a Lockheed WP-3D Orion
Commander Price with the aircraft he flies, a Lockheed WP-3D Orion. Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Paul Hemmick/NOAA

As Hurricane Irma surged toward Florida and the southeastern United States in early September, the country braced for the impact of the Category 4 storm, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in recent memory. People fortified their homes, stocked up on food or evacuated inland, away from the path of the storm.

But not Commander Scott Price ’99, a pilot in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Officer Corps.

He traveled closer to the storm, to the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. Price is a hurricane hunter, an elite group of NOAA pilots that flies into hurricanes to collect data for weather forecasts and scientific research.

From Barbados, he flew east, directly into the developing storm. In total, he made six flights into Irma while it was a Category 5 storm, providing essential data for weather forecasters, emergency personnel and NOAA scientists before the storm hit the U.S. mainland. This information determined how cities and states prepared for Irma, whether evacuations were necessary and, ultimately, helped save lives and protect physical structures during the storm.

Price says he vividly remembers his first flight into a hurricane. It was Hurricane Kyle, in 2008, and the storm was still a tropical storm when Price made his approach.

“It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so we got to the storm during the hours of darkness. We could see the storm on the radar, but not out the window, until a flash of lightening lit up the sky,” he recalls. “I could see the outlines of the massive clouds we were about to fly into. It is a little bit surreal, because every instinct you have as a pilot is to avoid bad weather.”

And though the NOAA pilots are highly skilled and trained, it is difficult to simulate flying in a hurricane. “The first time you fly into a hurricane really is the first time,” Price says. “Once you get the first one under your belt, it establishes the expectations. I’m not sure the flights get any easier, but they are possible, and really critical, at the end of the day.”

Price’s flights are critical because the best data comes from inside a storm itself, rather than satellites roaming above the earth, he says.

He usually gets about 48 hours notice before deploying for a hurricane flight, which can last up to nine hours. Multiple pilots come on each flight, so they can rotate during what is an intense ride.

“It can be extremely turbulent, as you can imagine, which is certainly uncomfortable. Oftentimes we end up getting bounced around pretty good,” Price says. “It is very loud, with both the wind and the rain, which comes down hard on the airplane and can make a lot of noise. We are very focused on getting the airplane in and out safely, which requires flying at a very specific air speed so we don’t stall or overstress the airplane.”

Price concentrates on keeping the aircraft steady during the flight — despite wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour pushing the plane up and down. They fly directly through the eye of a hurricane, where the storm stills, and there can even be glimpses of blue sky. But to get to those few miles of calm, the plane must make it through the eyewall, the site of the most severe weather in the storm.

It all takes a discipline and focus that he honed during his years at Holy Cross, balancing his mathematics major with the demands of Naval ROTC.

Price attended Holy Cross on a Naval ROTC scholarship and spent nine years as a pilot in the U.S. Navy after graduation. The plane he flew in the Navy, the Lockheed WP-3D Orion, is what NOAA uses for hurricane flights, because of its durability, size and fuel capacity. The plane can fly for eight hours without refueling, and there is ample space for the research team and their instruments, both inside and on the plane itself. When he transferred from the Navy in 2008, Price joined the NOAA Corps and continued flying the Lockheed WP-3D Orion.

Along with the hurricane hunter role, Price is also the chief of safety standardization and training for the nine aircraft and 110 personnel at NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland, Florida. Safety is a year-round focus for Price and his team, while hurricane season typically lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. Outside of that season, he will fly on missions to collect data on other types of storms — like those that generate tornadoes — as well as track flooding and changes in the U.S. coastline.

Price says it requires a team effort to successfully complete a flight into — and out of — a hurricane. “If we go into a storm and we don’t collect the data we need to collect, there is no point being there. And if we don’t get out safely, that’s not the right answer either. We have very talented folks, so we can get in, get the data and get back out safely.”

When he considered joining the NOAA Corps, Price was initially hesitant about the hurricane flights, and still experiences some nerves about the unpredictable nature of flying into storms, as opposed to around them.

“I am by no means an adrenaline junkie — probably just the opposite,” he says. “But the uniqueness of the mission and the quality of the people at NOAA made the job attractive.”

His wife, who owns and operates a gymnastics studio, and two daughters always eagerly await news of his safe landing after a storm. The family lives in Tampa, Florida, close to Price’s base in Lakeland.

“Despite all the anxiety, at the end of the day, it is a critical mission,” he says, “and one that I’m very proud to have done for a number of years now.”

Five Questions with Commander Scott Price ’99

How many hurricanes have you flown in? I don’t know the exact number of storms, but I’ve logged 140 flights into and out of the eye of storms. Some missions require us to fly into the same storm multiple times.

How many people are on board your Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft when you fly into a hurricane? Our plane can carry up to 21 people, and we usually have about 16, between the pilots, flight engineers and scientists collecting the data.

What type of storms are the most difficult to fly through? Tropical storms, which are developing into hurricanes, can cause some of the roughest, most uncomfortable rides. There are a lot of updrafts and downdrafts as the storm develops, and they cause turbulence.

In your nine years of flying with NOAA, have hurricanes gotten worse or more frequent? We focus on the data collection and less on the why, but I can tell you that we were busier this season than last season. I logged 10 hurricane penetrations last year, and this year, I’m up to 50 so far. It varies greatly on the season — we’ve had very busy seasons and very quiet seasons.

Hurricane season typically lasts from June to November. What kind of missions do you fly during the off-season months? We collect data on coastal mapping, flooding and a number of other environmental things to help NOAA either provide forecast data or manage marine life. This January and February, we’ll collect data on north Atlantic storms, and then we’ll go to Alabama to investigate storms that generate tornadoes.


Written by Maura Sullivan Hill for the Winter 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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Open to Campus Community Only
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Lecture: Activist Leader Corinne Kumar to Speak on Global Human Rights
4/4/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Corinne Kumar is secretary general of El Taller International,...
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Working Writer Series: Jen Chang
4/5/2018
English
Edith Stein Hall 120
Open to the Public
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COES Real Estate Club Meeting
4/5/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 124
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential,...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
4/5/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118B
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
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Lecture: Literary Critic Terry Eagleton to Muse, 'Was Jesus a Revolutionary?'
4/5/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Terry Eagleton is a renowned British literary theorist, critic...
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Annual Fund Giving Challenge
4/6/2018
Physics
Swords Hall Swords Atrium
We will have a table set up in the Swords Atrium where students will be taking...
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COES Agency Club Meeting
4/9/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 217
The Agency educates students who are interested in learning about the fields of...
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City Year Info Table
4/9/2018
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Stop by the City Year Info Table to learn more about this...
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COES Finance Club Meeting
4/10/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club focuses on Wall Street - including sales & trading and ibanking...
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Economics & Accounting Career Night (Event canceled)
4/10/2018
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Come hear from a panel of economics and accounting alumni...
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Latinidad Identidad Practice
4/11/2018
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Regular practice for this Afro-LatinX dance groupOpen to Campus Community...
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COES Women in Finance Meetings
4/11/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Open to Campus Community Only
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Economics & Accounting Career Night
4/11/2018
Center for Career Development Open to Campus Community Only
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Hear from a panel of economics and accounting alumni...
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Erin McAleer, Project Bread
4/11/2018
Sociology and Anthropology
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 519
Open to the Public
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Conference - Francis the Pilgrim: From Personal Devotion to Papal Diplomacy
4/11/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This conference will take Francis’ own devotional life,...
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/12/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
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COES Real Estate Club Meeting
4/12/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 124
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential,...
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COES Sales Club Competition
4/12/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Smith Laboratories 155
Join us for the annual Sales Club Competition. Watch as HC students pitch their...
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Administrative State Conference POLS
4/12/2018
Political Science Open to Campus Community Only
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Keynote Address for a conference on the American administrative...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
4/12/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118B
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
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Conference - Francis the Pilgrim: From Personal Devotion to Papal Diplomacy
4/12/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This conference will take Francis’ own devotional life,...
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/13/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/14/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
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Hospitality Management Workshop
4/14/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Alumni-led workshop with Mary D'Argenis-Fernandez '93, Managing Director for MDA...
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Lecture: Lewis Glinert to Speak on His Book, 'The Story of Hebrew'
4/16/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
In recognition of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 70th birthday,...
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COES Agency Club Meeting
4/16/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 217
The Agency educates students who are interested in learning about the fields of...
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COES Finance Club Meeting
4/17/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club focuses on Wall Street - including sales & trading and ibanking...
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Creating an Inclusive Campus: Skills & Practice
4/17/2018
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
This workshop will take diversity and inclusion from theory to practice;...
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Latinidad Identidad Practice
4/18/2018
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Regular practice for this Afro-LatinX dance groupOpen to Campus Community...
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COES Women in Finance Meetings
4/18/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Open to Campus Community Only
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/19/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
See More >>


COES Real Estate Club Meeting
4/19/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 124
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential,...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
4/19/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118B
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
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Sustaining Ourselves: Courageous Self-Care Workshop
4/19/2018
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
Social justice activists often experience burn out. This interactive...
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Lecture: Jews, Intersectionality and Contemporary Anti-Semitism
4/19/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Katya Gibel Mevorach, professor of anthropology and American studies...
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/20/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
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Lecture: Geshe Georges Dreyfus on Tradition and Inquiry in Tibetan Buddhism
4/20/2018
Philosophy
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Georges Dreyfus, Jackson Professor of Religion at Williams College,...
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The Skin of Our Teeth
4/21/2018
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre 2nd Floor O'Kane Hall
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a kaleidoscopic comedy about...
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Startup Day
4/21/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Want to know how to turn your idea into a startup? Come to this day-long workshop...
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Physician Assistant Panel
4/22/2018
Biochemistry
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to Campus Community Only
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Farmer's Market
4/22/2018
Featured
Kimball Hall Kimball Quad
Farmer's MarketFeaturing local products, the farmer's market will have items...
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COES Agency Club Meeting
4/23/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 217
The Agency educates students who are interested in learning about the fields of...
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Lecture: Writer and Critic Randy Boyagoda to Speak on Catholic Literature
4/23/2018
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Randy Boyagoda, a Catholic writer and professor of English at...
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25th Annual Leonard C. Sulski Memorial Lecture
4/23/2018
Mathematics and Computer Science
Smith Laboratories 154
The 25th annual Leonard C. Sulski Memorial Lecture in Mathematics will be given...
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COES Finance Club Meeting
4/24/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club focuses on Wall Street - including sales & trading and ibanking...
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Finance Club Mock Superday Dinner
4/24/2018
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406
Open to Campus Community Only
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COES Women in Finance Meetings
4/25/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES Real Estate Club Meeting
4/26/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 124
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential,...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
4/26/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118B
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
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Holy Cross Concert Band Spring Concert
4/29/2018
Music
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & 328
Open to the Public
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COES Agency Club Meeting
4/30/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 217
The Agency educates students who are interested in learning about the fields of...
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COES Finance Club Meeting
5/1/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club focuses on Wall Street - including sales & trading and ibanking...
See More >>


COES Women in Finance Meetings
5/2/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES Real Estate Club Meeting
5/3/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 124
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential,...
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
5/3/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118B
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


COES Agency Club Meeting
5/7/2018
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 217
The Agency educates students who are interested in learning about the fields of...
See More >>


Phi Betta Kappa Ceremony
5/24/2018
Phi Beta Kappa
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to Campus Community Only
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MAG Meeting
6/13/2018
Audio-Visual Services
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
Open to Campus Community Only
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See All