SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — A North Bay weather scientist on Thursday told KPIX 5 about a close encounter with Hurricane Dorian that she will never forget.
Dr. Lucrezia Ricciardulli works for a company called Remote Sensing Systems. From an unmarked building in downtown Santa Rosa, the company tracks global wind speeds using data from satellites.
“But during the hurricane season I particularly like to follow a storm and see if our data, that is an indirect measurement, is realistic,” said Ricciardulli.
But as Hurricane Dorian began building, Ricciardulli got a call asking if she wanted to be on one of the storm-chasing planes that fly through hurricanes to measure their intensity.
It was something she had been requesting for two years.
“I’m very surprised, because it was very dangerous sounding to me, and she’s the mother of two children,” said her friend, Leeanne Wentz.
Nevertheless, Ricciardulli hopped aboard the P-3 Orion nicknamed “Kermit the Frog” in Lakeland, Florida, and headed into the storm. On the first flight, the plane flew through winds over 150 miles per hour.
“You feel like the plane is controlled by the hurricane and the pilots have to compensate for this downward motion that is experienced at the edge of the eye wall and the eye,” remembered Ricciardulli.
As the plane bucked up and down, flying at only 8,000 feet elevation to prevent icing, she monitored data coming in from transmitting sensors released into the sky. It was exciting work, but on the second day’s flight, things took a disturbing turn.
Winds reached 185 mph as the hurricane settled over the Bahama Islands.
“It was very overwhelming, because at that time on the plane all the crew knew that this was a catastrophe,” Ricciardulli said.
They couldn’t see it, but they knew the destruction that was happening below them. The wind was howling and the P3 Orion plane was being hammered by ice pellets.
“And then suddenly, there it goes, we are in the eye. And you look up and there is a window in the cockpit and I see all blue. It’s surreal,” Ricciardulli said. “You feel part of nature and the brain was trying to make sense of the reality that I was living.”
Ricciardulli said it was important to put her fear aside to be able to function and do her job. So she put her faith in the flight crew, some who have flown more than 300 such missions.
While flying through the middle of Hurricane Dorian, the second strongest hurricane ever recorded, she admits there were times when she was afraid. But Ricciardulli said she would do it again in a heartbeat.