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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Don Evans
Don Evans
Commerce Secretary

September 15, 2004

Don Evans

I'm delighted to be here at Ask the White House to share my experience of riding through Hurricane Ivan on one of NOAA's Hurricane Hunters.

As Secretary of Commerce, I have the privilege of overseeing the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and I was very proud to have been able to see first-hand the tremendous work they do to predict the path and intensity of these storms.

Let's get started.

John, from Salt Lake City, UT writes:
Mr. Evans, On average, are hurricanes getting worse each year or are they staying within the historical frames of reference. Could we ever see a "Category 6" storm? Thanks, this is an interesting forum

Don Evans
John, the team at NOAA says that we are in an above normal period of hurricanes and have been for several years. In 2003, we had 16 tropical cyclones and in 2002 there were 12. The average season brings 10 tropical cyclones. NOAA's climatologists say this above normal trend should continue for the next 10 to 15 years. So far this year we have had 10 tropical storms of which five became hurricanes. Of the five hurricanes, four have been "major," which is Category 3 or above. That is unusual as typically we have only two "major" storms a year. Category 5 storms have sustained winds over 155 mph. Since there is no upper limit on wind speed for a Category 5 storm, there is no Category 6.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
When a hurricane hits the coast, how far away do people need to be when they evacuate?

Don Evans
Thanks for the question, Michael. All tropical storms and hurricanes are dangerous, so I am glad you are thinking about possible actions. Coastal residents are particularly vulnerable to damaging winds and the coastal flooding caused by these storms. If evacuating, the important thing to remember is to get to higher ground, well above storm surge levels.

My colleagues at NOAA advise that you should listen to your local emergency management authorities. Depending on their recommendations, some residents may be able to stay locally in an approved shelter. Others could stay with friends or relatives provided the home is safe and will not flood. The distance you travel can sometimes be up to you, provided the shelter or residence you choose is safe from damaging winds, flooding and has emergency supplies.

Chris, from Omaha writes:
Is it possible to fly ABOVE a hurricane in an airplane and look down on it?

Don Evans
Yes it is possible but not very practical, Chris. Towering clouds rise to 50,000 feet or higher in hurricanes. A significant amount of air turbulence is created by these powerful storms so you don't want to be caught in them. High altitude aircraft such as those used by our military could get above the storm. However, the typical commercial aircraft flies between 25,000 and 35,000 feet and would not be attempting to fly through or over a storm.

Eric, from Gainesville, Florida writes:
Mr. Evans,What exactly is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? If you are the Secretary of Commerce, how did you get to do this? I guess I am a bit confused. Thank you for helping us Floridians.

Don Evans
Good question, Eric. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is one of the bureaus within the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA conducts research and gathers data about the global oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun, and applies this knowledge to science and service that touch the lives of all Americans.

You may have seen television and newspaper reports coming out of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. This is one of NOAA’s three primary severe storm centers. This center keeps a continuous watch of storms like Hurricane Ivan. They also prepare and distribute hurricane watches and warnings for the general public.

You can learn more information about this interesting and valuable U.S. agency by going to its web site at

Caroline, from Massachusetts writes:
Mr. Secretary,Wow I'm glad you returned safely from your exciting adventure. How do you think this helped the United States? Do you think this will cause you to want to help more or ask more money given to hurricane victims? What was the overall purpose of this trip?

Don Evans
Indeed it was a very educational experience. Seeing Hurricane Ivan eye-to-eye allowed me to witness the bravery of NOAA’s pilots and scientists taking dangerous risks to alert communities about storms before they reach land. NOAA's scientists are working hard to improve the safety and economic conditions of our coastal communities by providing citizens with timely and accurate forecasts.

Yesterday President Bush submitted a $3.1 billion budget request to Congress to aid the affected areas respond to damage caused by Hurricanes Charley and Frances. He also alerted Congressional leaders that he may recommend additional funding for damage caused by Hurricane Ivan. The President and I remain very concerned for the victims affected by these hurricanes and we will continue to work to respond rapidly to the needs of these communities.

Sandra, from Portland Oregon writes:
Had you ever ridden in a helicopter like this before? What was it like? Could you see the eye of the hurricane??

Don Evans
Thanks for the question, Sandra. Actually, the Hurricane Hunter I flew in is more like an airplane, only it has very sophisticated technology that enables the crew to collect important data about hurricanes. We flew into the eye of the hurricane four times. It was like flying through a river. The eye is 40 miles in diameter. It was very turbulent but also quite spectacular and there was very heavy rain when we flew in the eye of the hurricane. I commend the team at NOAA for doing a fantastic job collecting the data that's needed to continue to predict the direction and intensity of the hurricane.

Jake, from San Diego writes:
Secretary Evans, How many people were on the Hurrican Hunter airplane with you? What different jobs did they do?

Don Evans
Well, Jake, there were about 20 people on the Hurricane Hunter. Most were researchers, scientists and meteorologists from NOAA's National Weather Service, its Research Division. The aircraft crew are members of the NOAA Corps, the nation's 7th uniform service, and civilian employees of the NOAA Aviation Operations Center.

john, from california writes:
Im in the Air Force and currently flying on a kc-10, and have been in some bad weather.are you flying c-130's into the storm and what is the worst incounter that you have faced doing this. thank you.

Don Evans
Thank you for your service to our country, John. I was actually flying a P-3 Hurricane Hunter. The specially-built NOAA WP-3D Orions participate in a wide variety of national and international meteorological, oceanographic and environmental research programs in addition to their widely known use in hurricane research and reconnaissance.

These aircraft are equipped with a variety of scientific instrumentation, radars and recording systems and remote sensing measurements of the atmosphere, the earth and its environment. Instruments dropped into the hurricane record data that is quickly forwarded to our Hurricane Center in Miami and our Climate Prediction Centers in Maryland. Forecasters and researchers analyze the information to track where the hurricane is going and to gauge its direction, intensity and potential landfall location.

Lance, from Dallas writes:
Secretary Evans, Thanks you for taking our questions today. While riding in the Hurrican Hunter did you get air sick? Is it a turbulent ride?

Don Evans
Hi Lance. It’s nice to hear from a fellow Texan. Riding in the hurricane was pretty unpredictable and very turbulent. Fortunately, I didn’t get sick, but it was certainly a rough ride. The plane’s crew did a great job of navigating in and out of the storm.

Don Evans
Thanks for all the great questions! And thanks to all the hard work our NOAA team does in providing timely and accurate information on the conditions of storms like Hurricane Ivan.