Listening Topic: Earth Science – Interview about hurricanes

A. Listen to the interview. Then note the three main topics presented by the hurricane hunter.




B. Listen again. Write T for true and F for false for each statement..

 A tropical storm in the Northwest Pacific is called a typhoon.

 Heat is released when warm air rises, cools, and condenses.

 Hurricanes rotate east to west north of the equator.

 A category 5 hurricane is very strong.

 Hurricane hunters look for ways to stop the destructive power of hurricanes.

 Hurricane hunters fly quickly into the eye of the storm.

 They collect data which adds to our understanding of the nature of hurricanes.

 Hurricane hunters enter and re-enter the storm one or two times during a mission.



 What is a hurricane?

 How does a hurricane form?

 What do hurricane hunters do?


1 T   2 T   3 F   4 T   5 T   6 F   7 T   8 F


A = Host, B = Rick Lakeland

A:   Every year, thousands of people lose their homes, property, and some, their lives due to hurricanes. Thankfully, with modern technology, we can know when a hurricane is forming and we can predict the general direction it will take. Now, when we are notified of a hurricane’s approach, most of us would be too nervous to stay and watch the storm, let alone deliberately enter it. But there is a group of people that actually fly directly into hurricanes to study them. In fact, our guest today, Rick Lakeland, has done this countless times. He and those like him are known as ‘Hurricane Hunters’.

Rick, before you tell us about what you do, first tell us about hurricanes. What are they, exactly? And what is it that distinguishes a hurricane from, well, just a regular storm.

B:   Well, a hurricane is a tropical storm that has wind speeds of at least 119 mile…119 kilometers per hour. That’s equal to 74 miles per hour. It’s called a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Pacific Ocean. But we call that same kind of storm a typhoon in the Northwest Pacific. As you can see, different regions of the world have different names for storms of this size.

A:   And these storms tend to form at certain times of the year, right?

B:   Yes, there’s a ‘hurricane season’ which runs approx… roughly from May to November. To understand why there’s a season, we have to understand how a hurricane forms. Three conditions have to exist before a hurricane can take shape. You need warm water, low pressure, and high wind speeds. Most Atlantic hurricanes begin off the western coast of Africa near the equator. And the water is warmest there from about May to November. Typically a hurricane starts out as a low pressure thunderstorm over the ocean. The warm air over the water rises and begins to condense, making water vapor when it comes in contact with cooler air. Heat is released from this condensation and the heat warms the cooler air at that higher level. This newly warm air rises upward and out and is replaced by the warm air rising from below. This creates a constant flow of warm air rising from the ocean surface to higher levels.

Wind meeting at the ocean surface forces more warm air upward. As the air rises, we see an increase in the rotation and speed of the wind. At higher elevations, the wind blows the rising warm air outward creating a constant movement of rising warm air to upper altitudes.

At this point, the storm is kind of like an engine that runs on a continuous cycle of rising warm air and evaporation. Interestingly, north of the equator, hurricanes rotate west to east, or counterclockwise, while in the southern hemisphere, they turn the other way, clockwise. Hurricanes are categorized by size according to the Sapir-Simpson…Saffir-Simpson scale. A hurricane with a scale of ‘1’ is weak, while a ‘5’ category hurricane is the largest. These are the ones that typically do the most damage.

A:   OK, thanks. Now, can you tell us a little bit about what you…what you do, as a hurricane hunter?

B:   Sure. When it’s gone through the formation… Let me explain: What I mean is that once a hurricane has fully formed, well that’s when hurricane hunters like me go to work. Basically, a hurricane hunter flies into hurricanes, and collects information on wind speed, rain, air pressure, and exact location of the ‘eye’, or center of a hurricane, among other things. Then we send this information back to the National Hurricane Center.

A:   Wow! Aren’t there safer ways to get that kind of information? I mean safer than flying right into a hurricane?

B:   Not really. You see, weather satellites let us know if a hurricane has formed, but the images they capture can’t tell us everything. The data that hunters collect can help accurately predict where a hurricane might move off the ocean and make landfall, so people living along coastlines can be warned of any danger. Plus, the measurements and readings we make add to our general understanding of how hurricanes behave. Although this might seem like a crazy and dangerous occupation, we’ve been trained and safety is our number one concern whenever we fly a mission.

A:   And how exactly does one enter a hurricane?

B:   Well, to approach a hurricane, we enter the storm gradually. We can’t be in a rush and we can’t fly in too fast. The flight can be bumpy, but it usually smoothes right out when we finally penetrate the eye wall-that’s the strongest ring of winds near the center of the eye of the hurricane.

A:   How long do you spend flying around inside the hurricane once you’ve entered it?

B:   Once we’re in the storm, we don’t leave right away. To make sure our readings are as accurate as possible, we’ll enter and reenter the eye, gathering information several times in one mission. A typical flight might last around 11 hours.

A:   Thanks to the efforts of hunters like Rick Lakeland, many people in coastal communities have been warned in plenty of time to prepare for hurricane landfall. They’ve been able to board up their homes and businesses, or, when they can’t stay, evacuate the area. The hurricane hunters provide a valuable service to residents along the coast, and, in my opinion, have one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever heard of.

Rick, thank you for the work you’re doing, and thank you for telling us a little about it.

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