WATCH: West Virginia native goes viral for flying into Hurricane Ian

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 12:47 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - An aerospace engineer from West Virginia flew into Hurricane Ian early Wednesday morning, and he says the flight was the worst of his career.

Nick Underwood, a WVU graduate, works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He took a video aboard a NOAA flight as he flew into the hurricane.

In a post on Twitter, Underwood said he has never seen so much lightning in an eye of a hurricane.

“For whatever reason the flight through Ian yesterday was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on and in addition to the turbulence there was a lot of extra lightning around,” said Underwood. “Even though we were flying at night into the storm there was so much lightning in the eye -- in the eyewall -- it almost looked like daytime.”

Underwood says the sustained winds on the ground were just shy of being a category 5 hurricane.

Underwood and his team were in the air gathering data in real time.

He says it’s life saving information from radars like wind speed and direction -- all of this to keep people on the ground updated and prepared.

“All of that gets put into those computer models that we generate the forecast from,” said Underwood. “So the better data that we can collect on the storm the better those forecasts are going to be and the earlier we can warn people they need to get out of the way.”

Underwood says new technology like drones is helping them to accurately predict up to 5 days in advance as well as better understanding storms in the future.

Underwood says he’s proud of the public service he and his team provide but one day he’s hoping to take his flights even further.

“My long-term goal has always been to be an astronaut that’s why I went to go and study aerospace engineering and that’s part of why I chose this job, because the advice I got to be an astronaut is don’t sit behind a desk and so at least in this job I’m on an airplane in a hurricane instead of sitting behind a desk.”

Video by Nick Underwood NOAA

The aircraft Underwood was aboard, Kermit, is a Lockheed WP-3D Orion, an NOAA “Hurricane Hunter” that helps collect data used in tropical cyclone research and forecasting.

The newly upgraded and repainted NOAA Lockheed WP-3D Orion N42RF, also known as "Kermit,"...
The newly upgraded and repainted NOAA Lockheed WP-3D Orion N42RF, also known as "Kermit," taking off from Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 18, 2017.(Lt. Kevin Doremus / NOAA)

After the fact, Underwood shared photos to Twitter of the eye of the storm 8,000 feet above the ocean.

Below is another video captured by Underwood as they flew into Hurricane Ian.

Video by Nick Underwood NOAA