Snakkle: How did you guys pitch a show to The Weather Channel that promises to give thrills and chills but that also sheds light on such a devastating topic?
Christian D’Andrea: The way you do it is you really couple both.… We had the distinct advantage of being able to say we intend to raise awareness of what I call a hurricane literacy by not just sending out flyers or having lectures on it, but by being out in the planes with the guys in the air force who fly not over, but into the hurricanes to figure out where the heck they’re going to go and how strong they’ll be when they get there. So all of a sudden you just have a hook.
Snakkle: Yeah, most people probably don’t know these guys fly into the hurricane, as terrifying as that sounds!
D’Andrea: They fly into it. These things can be 200 to 400 miles wide and they are Mother Nature’s angriest storms.
Snakkle: How violent is this journey?
D’Andrea: It’s a roller-coaster ride right into quite literally the belly of the beast, heading toward the eye; the storm’s getting worse and worse. The winds of the swirling cyclone are intensifying, and you get to this moment where you hit the eye wall, and the eye wall is this collection of this solid water. It’s actually a place where the storm is so thick that the storm has almost congealed and been swirled into a solid wall of water, a gigantic cylinder of water that’s 20 miles wide.
Snakkle: How did you not fear for your life? And how do the pilots and crew not fear for their lives every moment? Is it a special kind of plane that has double or triple the armor? And how does it physically work so that people don’t get hurt?
D’Andrea: It’s a strong plane. It’s an incredibly bomb-proof tank of a plane called a modified C130 Hercules. They call them weatherbirds. There are only a handful of them, and the hurricane hunters own all of them. They are specially rigged to withstand a hurricane. And there are remarkable people. These pilots are badass, and they are one of the reasons one does not get frightened on a flight even when it gets really, really, really hairy.
Snakkle: Did you have one of those hairy moments while flying these hurricane missions?
D’Andrea: There was a moment… there is this guy [on the show] Scott, who super cool. I mean, he’s tattooed, he’s a really tough guy, and he’s awesome and basically built this plane by hand. There was one moment when we hit a really bad downdraft, low. We were flying low out over the Caribbean [and] hit a super-bad, nasty piece of air and the whole plane goes into a colossal nose dive. Scott turns to me and he goes, “Sit the f*** down and strap in!” And then, this is the best line of all: “Put your life vest on!”
Snakkle: [Insert terrified squealing noise from reporter.] So besides Scott, who are the stars of the show, and how do you create an arc for something like Hurricane Hunters?
D’Andrea: The main characters are some of the pilots and some of the crew and some of the maintenance people, because it is a big collective effort. It’s superstar, rock-star pilots who fly them, and then they will tell you that it’s also the maintenance people who keep that plane fully functional, tough, bulletproof, etc. The arcs are great because [at the same time] you get the rock-star pilots and you get the maintenance guys—who are rock stars themselves but a little more unsung—then you realize who are they as human beings. And, you know, they are fascinating human beings. They have families, and so all of a sudden these great arcs present themselves. What’s it like to be in a family of a hurricane hunter when you’re on the ground and you know that your husband or your father is hurtling into a category four or category five hurricane or risking his life to get this information that’s so important to us?
Snakkle: For you, was the most surprisingly moving moment in the six episodes that you shot?
D’Andrea: Some of them happened on the ground, surprisingly. We were in St. Croix as tropical storm Maria was inbound, and we met this woman on the street. This woman walks up and says, “Hi, my name’s Maria, and it’s so interesting that Maria the storm’s coming in.” And then she kind of directed us a certain direction and we went to this church. We’re at this church, and as part of the normal liturgy, they pray to God to protect them from the ravages of hurricanes. It’s built into the church doctrine. It’s this lovely thing, right before the storm was about to hit, that the community—which knows how to handle this and knows how bad it can be—will offer this communal prayer.
Catch the premiere of Hurricane Hunters on the Weather Channel on June 11 at 9/8c.