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Reserve Hurricane Hunters ensure critical data transmission

Air Force Reserve 1st Lt. James Carpenter, aerial reconnaissance weather officer, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, enters data into his workstation on a WC-130J Super Hercules during a mission fly through the eye of Hurricane Irma Sep. 10, 2017. The Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron "Hurricane Hunters" fly WC-130J Super Hercules though the eye of active hurricanes to collect weather data using aircraft and externally dropped sensors to provide accurate weather data to the National Hurricane Center on approaching hurricanes. The Reserve Citizen Airmen provide 100 percent of the Air Force capability in low-level, real time data collection in Atlantic and Pacific Ocean tropical weather systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kyle Brasier)

Air Force Reserve 1st Lt. James Carpenter, aerial reconnaissance weather officer, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, enters data into his workstation on a WC-130J Super Hercules during a mission fly through the eye of Hurricane Irma Sep. 10, 2017. The Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron "Hurricane Hunters" fly WC-130J Super Hercules though the eye of active hurricanes to collect weather data using aircraft and externally dropped sensors to provide accurate weather data to the National Hurricane Center on approaching hurricanes. The Reserve Citizen Airmen provide 100 percent of the Air Force capability in low-level, real time data collection in Atlantic and Pacific Ocean tropical weather systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kyle Brasier)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

Imagine a five-lane highway that cuts down to two lanes. Obviously, during rush-hour the flow of traffic could slow down considerably or even stop. This is what happened on Friday, Sept. 8, as information from five different aircraft flying in three different storms came into the National Hurricane Center.

 

Located at the NHC is a three-man shop, the Chief Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes or CARCAH, which acts as a liaison between the civilian forecasters and the Hurricane Hunter aircraft from both the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The information that comes from the aircraft goes through the CARCAH and then is disseminated to the forecasters where predictions are sent out to meteorologists across the country.

 

Without the data from the aircraft, forecasters would be left with only satellite data to go off of said John Pavone, aircraft coordinator meteorologist with CARCAH.

 

“Satellite data is only an estimate, where the airplane can give us real data,” Pavone said.

 

At any given time, the 53rd WRS, an Air Force Reserve unit, must be capable of continuously flying three storms simultaneously with 16 hours’ notice. With the development of Hurricane Katia in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Jose in the Atlantic and Hurricane Irma barreling down on Florida, the 53rd WRS was stretched to those limits and constantly sending data back to the NHC. The satellite system the crews use have two channels they are able to transmit through.

 

“The primary and backup channels on the dedicated satellite system used to send that data were overloaded and locked up,” recalled Pavone. “Which put us out of business here at the Hurricane Center.”

 

When Maj. Jon Brady, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer with the 53rd WRS, arrived at work to fill supervisor of flight or SOF duties, he discovered just how bad the situation had become. Luckily, the night before Brady had been working with Warren Madden, a mission coordinator at CARCAH, on a contingency plan should Hurricane Irma too heavily damage the NHC, which is located in Miami.

 

Warren told Brady that should they fall, he would become the CARCAH at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

 

“With the help of Tech. Sgt. Mathias Tilman we discovered our SATCOM computer has a modem built into it, too,” said Brady. “But it wasn’t even plugged into the phone line anymore.”

 

It wasn’t needed, as the modem was not the primary way to send data.

 

Brady was able to utilize a backup phone line to make a connection with the NHC using the computer’s modem. Having received some data from one of the aircraft, he tried a test transmission.

 

“I hit send and you could hear that screech of the old modem sound of dial up,” said Brady. “And it went, boom, they got it.” Pavone had told him to just keep sending no matter what.

 

“Two hours in to no communications with airplanes, Jon Brady came and put his finger in the dike by being able to relay the data from those planes,” said Pavone.

 

While they now had a flow of data, it was moving slowly. A faster broadband connection, while available, wasn’t possible, as the NHC needed the data to arrive as it would from the plane and only the slower connection would duplicate that.

 

Due to the slower speed of transmission, Brady worked with the CARCAH and Tillman to put some restrictions on how the crews sent that information back the next day. “Instead of all three planes auto transmitting as they normally do, they each had ten minute windows to transmit data, while continuing to collect data when out of their window,” Brady said.

 

This new system allowed the forecasters to continue to get the information they live and breathe by, said Pavone.

 

“Our weather officers are fairly trained up on doing the same job the CARCAH does, said Brady. “We try to go down there to work a week or two to do some shifts down there to see the receiving end of it and where it goes next.”

 

That training certainly came in handy finding the solutions for this problem.

 

“At the end of the day, we got all of that data that was desperately needed by the forecasters, to them,” said Brady. “Some of it arrived a little late, but late was better than not at all.”