West Virginia native hunts hurricanes for a living

September 9, 2018

BEAVER, W.Va. — As hurricanes approach the coast, millions monitor the news and prepare for the worst.

Beaver native Nick Underwood, however, flies ferociously into the eye of the storm, and gathers data on the monster to make people in its path aware of its strength.

Underwood, 26, has worked as an aerospace engineer and hurricane hunter for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Florida since August 2016.

He spends some days in the office fitting scientific instruments designed to study the weather on aircrafts.

“Any time a scientist comes to us and needs a new science instrument or a new data system mounted to one of those aircraft, whether it’s internally or externally, I’m one of the people who does all the math, does all the physics, to figure out how we can mount those instruments structurally to make sure that they’re going to stay on the aircraft as intended,” Underwood said.

But the more “exciting” part of his job is serving as air crew aboard NOAA’s fleet of hurricane hunters.

He sits near the back of the airplane and deploys Global Positioning System (GPS) dropwindsondes — 18-inch long cylindrical expendable devices designed to track storm conditions as they fall to the surface.

The devices continuously transmit measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, wind direction and speed as they fall toward the sea, providing a detailed look at the structure of the storm and its intensity. Underwood then sends this data to the National Hurricane Center to update models that predict the direction of the storm and how strong it is.