Even before getting their own lives settled, teams collect information on storm behavior and their effects on the ecosystem.

When Hurricane Irma tore through Florida in early September, 40 scientists took shelter in the Archbold Biological Station, a fortified research facility in the south-central part of the state. They huddled there with friends, family and pets while floods and pounding winds destroyed homes across the state. It will take months for those researchers and others to assess the extent of the destruction left behind by both Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which blasted through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

But even as they try to get their own lives in order, scientists across the region have already started gathering data that they hope will improve understanding of how these extreme storms behave, how to improve public safety and how delicate ecosystems react.

It is fairly rare to see such intense hurricanes hitting the US mainland, says Joshua Wurman, a meteorologist at the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado. When they made landfall, Harvey and Irma were category 4 storms—the second most extreme rating on a scale of 1 to 5—and their swirling winds were of particular interest to Wurman and his team. So the researchers drove an instrument called a Doppler-on-wheels (DOW) to Texas and Florida to collect data from the eyes of both hurricanes.

The DOW is a mobile Doppler radar dish bolted onto the back of a flatbed truck that scientists position in the path of hurricanes and tornados. It takes high-resolution measurements of wind speed and direction, as well as the speed and quantity of precipitation, in real time. Read More