On the eve of the official start of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, we highlight the important work of NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters – the pilots who fly directly into the eye of the storm.

Data collected during hurricanes by these sensor-packed aircraft and from a variety of other sources are fed into numerical computer models to help forecasters predict how intense a hurricane will be, and when and where it will make landfall.

As forecasts are only as good as the data received, data collected by the Hurricane Hunters help forecasters make accurate predictions during a storm, and help researchers better understand hurricanes and improve their forecast models.

While hurricane season officially starts June 1 and ends on November 30, it’s important to note that hurricanes don’t always follow the defined calendar. The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season saw the formation of two tropical cyclones – Alberto and Beryl – in May. This was the first occurrence of two pre-season named storms in the Atlantic basin since 1908.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on hurricanes.