Meet the 84-Year-Old Hurricane Hunter Who Has Flown Into the Eyes of 574 Storms—And Isn't Slowing Down
Dr. James McFadden holds the Guinness World Record for longest career as a hurricane hunter.
It’s an experience dedicated thrill seekers might consider the adventure of a lifetime. But for James McFadden, it’s just another day at work.
Since 1966, McFadden has boarded planes bound for dangerous territory—the eyes of some of the angriest storms in history—in the name of understanding more about how hurricanes think.
McFadden is the chief of programs and projects at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aircraft Operations Center, the group responsible for flying planes into hurricanes to obtain data.
In other words, he’s a hurricane hunter. In his five-decades career, he’s flown through 574 storms, gathering measurements such as wind speed and internal pressure that help scientists to better predict the trajectory of a storm. In his estimation, the predictive work of hurricane hunters saves the country $200 million per hurricane.
Related: The 10 Most Disastrous Hurricanes in U.S. History:
“I say it’s a cheap price when you compare the cost of our operation to what it costs to just prepare the coastline for a landfalling storm,” McFadden told CNN in an interview.
But, the cost of operations doesn’t take into account the dangers associated with flying a plane through a storm’s outer bands and, and even more intense, its eyewall. McFadden recalled to CNN a particular instance where three of the four engines on their plane gave out 500 miles from shore. (The crew scrambled until a rescue plane showed up to help restart the engines.)
Watch a recent video of hurricane hunters entering the eye of Hurricane Lane:
Most flights, however, McFadden recalls as “an amazing experience.” And, though he hasn’t flown in a couple of years due to the demands of his current role, he plans to get back up there soon.
“(The job) combines three things I like: the weather, travel, and airplanes,” he says. “People say, when are you gonna retire? I say, hey, why should I retire? I’ve got the best life.”