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    Incredible Hurricane Hunter Photos of Lee

    By By Heather Buchman, meteorologist
    September 14, 2011, 12:10:56 AM EDT


    This amazing photo of Tropical Storm Lee was captured by AccuWeather.com's own Valerie Smock while on a hurricane hunter mission Saturday, Sept. 3. Lee was just offshore of Louisiana when this picture was snapped.

    This was before Lee unleashed torrents of rain from Louisiana to New York, causing disastrous flooding.

    Valerie had the opportunity to join the hurricane hunters on the flight through Lee because of her position as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Air Force Reserve, which she does in addition to broadcasting the weather for AccuWeather.com.

    Valerie also had the opportunity to join invest flight missions last week into Nate in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and Maria near the Leeward Islands.

    "It has definitely been a busy week," she told us. "I was able to fly through Tropical Storm Lee. We were supposed to fly back to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, but the weather was so bad at the base because of Lee that we had to evacuate all of the aircraft to Ellington Field in Houston."

    "Wednesday, I was on the flight that did an invest [mission] in the Gulf," Valerie continued. "That invest helped to determine whether or not to upgrade the system to a tropical storm. Once we landed, that system became Tropical Storm Nate."

    In regard to her flight into Maria, Valerie said, "It was definitely a bumpy ride. I have never been on a plane ride that was as turbulent as that one. Tropical storms are actually a rougher ride than hurricanes, from what the hurricane hunters tell me."

    As winds kicked up during her flight through Maria, lightning struck near the aircraft. "The window next to the flight meteorologist just lit up!" Valerie said.

    "This whole trip has been amazing," she added. "I am very lucky to have the chance to be a part of this whole process. The hurricane hunters are a great group of people."

    Here are more pictures from Valerie's Lee mission:





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