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The first man to fly in a hurricane took an unauthorized flight — he got a medal

Thursday, July 29th 2021, 6:06 pm - On this day in weather history, Col. Joseph B. Duckworth flew into a hurricane.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features stories about people, communities, and events and how weather impacted them.


On Tuesday, July 27, 1943, U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Joseph B. Duckworth flew into the eye of the hurricane. This was the first time someone deliberately flew into a hurricane, and he did so on a dare. Though some dares end up in a mess, this one ended up revolutionizing the study of storms.

Before World War II, Duckworth was a pilot for Eastern Air Lines. In 1940, Duckworth was called to teach air cadets instrument flying. He wrote many of the manuals on instrument flying.

Lt. Col. Joseph Duckworth is shown at his desk at Columbus Army Air Field in 1942. Courtesy NOAA "Lt. Col. Joseph Duckworth is shown at his desk at Columbus Army Air Field in 1942." Courtesy of NOAA

By 1943, Duckworth was leading instrument training at Bryan Army Air Field in Texas, teaching mostly British pilots.

On July 27, classes were cancelled due to the 1943 Surprise Hurricane. The hurricane suddenly hit Galveston as a Category 2.

So Duckworth had a day off. Some say that Duckworth was responding to a dare and others say it was just on a whim, but he flew his AT-6 “Texan” trainer aircraft into the hurricane. Duckworth and navigator Lt. Ralph O’Hair successfully flew into the storm and found the eye near Houston.

When the men returned, the base meteorologist Lt. William Jones-Burdick insisted that Duckworth take him into the storm as well. As Duckworth flew back into the storm, Jones-Burdick sat in the back and took notes.

1943 Surprise Hurricane analysis 27 July "Surface weather analysis of the 1943 Surprise hurricane on July 27, 1943." Courtesy of Wikipedia

Because the hurricane took place during the War, storm information was not disseminated to the public. The Weather Bureau in New Orleans needed to clear all advisories and the storm information wasn't given the go-ahead. Because of this, the public was not prepared for the storm and 19 people died. This was the last time that the U.S. government censored hurricane advisories.

Street flooding in Galveston, TX.  Courtesy NOAA Street flooded in Galveston, TX. Courtesy of NOAA

Duckworth got into a little bit of trouble for taking unauthorized flights but ultimately received a medal for adding to the field of hurricane tracking. He proved that it is possible to fly right into the eye of a hurricane.

To learn more about Duckworth's flight into a hurricane, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

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Thumbnail: Courtesy of Pixabay

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