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Hurricanes form when warm, moist tropical air rises, letting cooler air fall into a low pressure area below. Over time, this causes a cycling, swirling mass of air, pressure and wind that speeds up before being thrown away from the tropics, sometimes in the direction of land. A Category 5 hurricane is the most powerful storm on Earth, and can create winds up to 155 mph (250 kph). Needless to say, it helps to know they're coming so we can hightail it out of the way.
Before meteorologists could predict hurricanes, we had to learn how they formed and how to track them. The best method we had was to fly out and meet it. Pilots would literally fly toward a storm to learn more about them. Pilots started flying into hurricanes in 1943, when members of the Army Air Corps flew into a hurricane off the coast of Texas sporting 132 mph winds (212 kph). They learned about how hurricane air temperature changes from the edge of the storm moving to the interior; and were able to track the storm on a path, laying a foundation for the first hurricane warning predictions. A year later, in 1944, pilots were able to get warning to New England about an on-coming storm and effectively minimized the destruction.
Surprisingly, flying into a hurricane is still one of the best ways science has to learn about them. The Hurricane Hunters are part of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron/403rd Wing and they are the only operational unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis. They provide surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes all over the world and deliver that information to the World Meteorological Association's Miami Regional Specialized Meteorological Center or RSMC. Their planes have data-gathering tools to map winds and formations, and planes deploy "Dropwindsondes" throughout the storms: these are expendable parachuted cylinders that measure temperature, pressure, winds, and humidity every half-second. This data is supported by satellites from NASA, ocean buoys from NOAA and ground stations and monitoring platforms spread across the Earth's continents, islands, and oceans.
Once they have the data, scientists plug it into constantly revised and updated computer models. NOAA the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has two supercomputers that only run simulations of storms. These computer models churn through all the new data and all past data to render the storms in 3D and predict where they'll go and how strong they'll be. Like with any science, as more data is gathered, the predictions get more accurate. But even still, hurricane prediction is not an exact science.
How Do Hurricanes Form? (NASA)
"Hurricanes are the most awesome, violent storms on Earth. People call these storms by other names, such as typhoons or cyclones, depending on where they occur"
How Hurricane Forecasts Have Improved (Live Science)
"While hurricanes remain difficult to predict, especially because they can suddenly intensify in ways that are poorly understood, hurricane forecasting has come a long way since 1992."