KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The United States Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, flew their first Winter Storm of the season Feb. 26.
A WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft departed Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. midday to fly the Western Atlantic Flight Track, which is the off the northern east coast.
“This is the first winter storm tasking of the season for us and it was a 10 hour mission,” said Maj. Kendall Dunn, 53rd WRS pilot. “During these missions we try to fly as high as possible at about 30,000 feet which is a lot higher than what we fly into hurricanes.”
The Hurricane Hunters normally operate at 10,000 feet, sometimes less, through major tropical systems, storms and hurricanes to collect weather data. These storms generally occur during the hurricane season which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 every year.
The winter storm season however is during the period of Nov. 1 to March 31. The unit has been busy throughout this season supporting the West Coast with atmospheric river data collection as well.
Despite being named the Hurricane Hunters, there is no off-season for the 20-crew, 10-aircraft squadron. The mission of the 53rd WRS is to remain on call for a tasking to fly in order to collect data from storms.
The Hurricane Hunters fly their weather equipped WC-130J aircraft to release dropsondes throughout the flight, said Maj. Douglas Gautrau, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer.
Gautrau said these dropsondes collect information such as wind speed and direction, pressure, and dew point then transmit that data back to the aerial reconnaissance dropsonde operator aboard the plane who reviews the information to ensure the device operated properly, and then sends the data to the weather officer.
Instead of sending the collected data to the National Hurricane Center, information gathered during a winter storm is sent from the aircraft to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction which, like the NHC, is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NCEP uses the data like the NHC does during hurricane season, as a supplement to data already collected from other means to predict the forecast of a storm and therefore to better inform and prepare those in its path.
“Being able to support weather forecasters get a better idea of when and how much precipitation is going to fall is important so they can better prepare their area’s infrastructure,” said Gautrau. “This preparation helps position snow removal vehicles and power trucks to better locations to ensure efficient response times.”
The 2019-2020 winter storm season has been busy with seven Pacific and one Atlantic mission thus far for the season.
“Winter storms are an integral part of what we do,” said Dunn. “Providing vital information to the citizens of the nation is the ultimate goal, so they can be prepared for the weather.”