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As Florida prepares for Irma, NOAA aircraft working nonstop

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

Hurricane Irma may be days away from Florida, but national, state and local agencies are at work now to deal with the second weather threat to the nation in two weeks.

The crews and hurricane hunter aircraft of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moved to their new home at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport by Aug. 1 after opening in June, but they have had little time to rest.

Hurricane hunter aircraft worked tracking Harvey as it made its way to the Texas Coast and now have been working almost nonstop tracking Hurricane Irma.

A Lockheed WP-3D Orion turboprop nicknamed “Kermit” by its crew relocated to Barbados Sunday and had flown five missions into the hurricane by the end of the day Tuesday.

A Gulfstream IV jet left for Barbados Sunday and was on its second mission late Tuesday afternoon when it measured wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, according to NOAA spokesman David Hall. The crew has nicknamed it “Gonzo.”

The NOAA Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland, is commanded by Capt. Nancy Hann. Nine aircraft belonging to the agency are located at the Lakeland operations center, which has many varied duties in addition to its hurricane hunting. Additional aircraft are used for NOAA’s environmental research, reconnaissance and surveying.

NOAA flight crews and the Hurricane Center have been hard at work for days and weeks, as well as other Florida agencies. County emergency service departments across the state spent most of Tuesday setting up communication centers from which local services will be conduction and will become fully operational at the end of the week.

Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott called for 7,000 Florida National Guard members to be activated. Wednesday, planners at guard headquarters at the Saint Francis Barracks in St. Augustine will open the joint operations center.

“Units have not been identified yet,” Guard spokesman Will Manley said Tuesday, “but members from almost every unit will be called up.”

Guard members will be on duty Friday throughout the areas of the hurricane’s projected paths.

Inside Hurricane Irma Tuesday, shot from a Lockheed WP-3D Orion by Commander Justin Kibbey, NOAA.

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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