Both NOAA and the Air Force fly directly into hurricanes in order to obtain data. From the plane, they drop instrument packs called dropsondes, which includes instruments that measure the current temperature, air pressure and wind speed.
The hurricane hunters drop numerous instrument packs, both in the outer bands of the storm as well as in the center, also known as the eye.
My colleague, Andrew Hagen -- who is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami -- flew into Hurricane Matthew while it was still located over the Caribbean Ocean.
In his photo below, the hurricane hunters analyzed the current flight path in order to determine when and where to release the dropsondes.
They are able to deploy the instrument packs via a chute embedded in the hurricane, which plunges the dropsonde into the hurricane.
The hurricane hunters deploy numerous instrument packs throughout their mission in order to obtain data on the environment around -- as well as within -- the hurricane.
Below is a cross section of the a dropsonde. In addition to humidity, wind speed, air pressure and temperature sensors, it also contains a radio transmitter that sends the data back to the aircraft twice per second.
Here in Huntsville, meteorologists and atmospheric scientists at Marshall Space Flight Center are also analyzing the storm.
"In our Short-Term Prediction Research and Transition Center, or SPORT Center, we collaborate with the National Weather Service to provide them value-added products from our constellation of NASA satellites," Andrew Molthan, a research meteorologist in the Earth Science Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, explained.
"In particular, our Hurricane partners and Weather Service partners find it valuable to receive passive microwave brightness temperatures, that help to see through some of the thick cloud cover associated with the storm and can provide some better depictions of the eye wall and the center of circulation."
Molthan further stated that the satellite data will provide a better analysis of the hurricane's center and eye wall, where the strongest winds occur and some of the heaviest rain falls.
"Right now our team is primarily observing information from the Global Precipitation Measuring Mission, and that satellite helps to calibrate a suite of passive microwave radiometers in space that provide detailed information about the storm circulation in the center, and it also provides a mapping of the precipitation that occurs outside of the ground based radar networks that we are used to having here in the United States."
"By being able to infer the strongest areas of the storms and the rainfall rates, we can get a better understanding of who's been impacted and what the likely impacts are as the storm moves up the coast."
Lightning can also give a clue with regards to forecasting hurricanes.
"What I'm mainly interested in is the lightning that associated with the inner core of the hurricane," explained Chris Schultz, who is a research scientist in the Earth Science Office at Marshall Space Flight Center.
"Typically increases in lightning rates in the center of the storm predict the intensification or maintenance of the strength of the storm," Schultz added.
"The more lightning that is in the core of the hurricane means that the hurricane is intensifying, and so the forecasters can utilize that information to make better predictions about its intensity as [Matthew] approaches the Florida coast."