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Hurricane Hunters depart to fly Hilary reconnaissance

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Reserve “Hurricane Hunters,” assigned to the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, departed today to fly weather reconnaissance missions into Hurricane Hilary to collect weather data that improves National Hurricane Center forecasts.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or “Hurricane Hunters,” are scheduled to fly their first mission into the storm today.

Crews along with maintenance personnel are operating out of Santa Maria Public Airport, Santa Maria, California.

Hilary reached Category 4 status today and tropical storm conditions could affect the Baja California peninsula late today through Sunday, according to the NHC advisory.

If the storm makes landfall in Southern California as a tropical storm, it will be the first one in 84 years, according to the National Weather Service. And the storm could provide heavy rainfall and flash floods, according the NHC.

Satellites provide a lot of information about a storm; however, they don’t provide information about what’s happening inside of it. This is where the Hurricane Hunters assist the NHC.

The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are data sparse environments due to the lack of radar and weather balloons, so 53rd WRS crews usually fly through the eye of a storm at about 10,000 feet four to six times to collect real-time information in the storm.

“By flying into the storm, crews are able to locate the low-pressure center of the storm and collect data that assists with movement and intensity forecasts,” said Lt. Col. Steve Burton, 53rd WRS mission commander for the weather deployment. “The data we collect can improve a forecast by anywhere from 15-25 percent.”

During a mission, the aircraft collects weather data such as temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and surface pressure. During each pass through the eye, they release multiple dropsondes at different areas in the storm, which collect weather data on its descent to the ocean surface, specifically gathering data on temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and wind direction. An automated data package is sent out every 10 minutes while manual observations, such as the dropsonde data, are sent as necessary.

The unit will continue to fly missions into the storm throughout the weekend and possibly into Monday, said Burton.