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Caribbean outreach mission promotes hurricane preparedness

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

Hurricane season starts June 1 and to help communities prepare, the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters and a team of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters visited four Caribbean locations April 16-20 as part of the annual Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour.

The CHAT, a joint effort between NOAA's National Hurricane Center and the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, promotes hurricane awareness and preparedness throughout the Caribbean region.

More than 13,000 people attended this year's event, which stopped at Nassau, Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia and Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Locals were able to tour the WC-130J aircraft and talk to NHC forecasters, Reserve Citizen Airmen with the 53rd WRS, and a crew member with NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center.  

“The goal of the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour is to not only showcase the brave men and women who fly directly into these dangerous storms to collect data for us at the NHC, but to promote a culture of preparedness for the 2024 hurricane season,” said Mike Brennan, director of the NHC in Miami. “Now is the time to prepare.”

Hurricane season starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. An “extremely active” hurricane season is likely according to forecasters at Colorado State University. They projected 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes. NOAA will release their season forecast in late May, but according to Brennan, “regardless of what any season forecast projects, it only takes one storm to hit your area to make it a bad hurricane season.”

"This event is a great opportunity for us to educate the public about our mission, how we use the WC-130J to collect data for NHC forecasts, and to stress the importance of heeding forecasts, storm warnings and advisories, and being prepared,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert, 53rd WRS chief ARWO.

Weather forecasters rely on satellites for information; however, oceans are data sparse environments and satellites can’t provide information such as the minimum sea level pressure of a hurricane, wind speed information, and information about the storm structure, which is needed to predict hurricane development and movement, said Rickert.

During a tropical storm or hurricane, 53rd WRS aircrews fly into these systems with the WC130J aircraft at altitudes that range from 500 to 1,500 feet for low level investigations and up to 10,000 feet for fix missions. During a fix mission, they can fly through the eye of a storm four to six times. During each pass through the eye, crews release a dropsonde, which collects temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and barometric pressure data. The crew also collects surface wind speed and flight-level data. This information is transmitted to the NHC to assist them with their storm warnings and hurricane forecast models in the Atlantic, Caribbean and eastern Pacific.

Working in conjunction with the 53rd WRS, is NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center. They use two types of aircraft for their missions, the WP-3D Orion and the Gulfstream GIV-SP. NOAA uses the WP-3D similarly to how the 53rd WRS uses the WC-130J, and the Gulfstream flies as high as 45,000 feet to collect data in the upper atmosphere surrounding developing hurricanes, said Commander Danielle Varwig, NOAA Corps G-IV pilot and deputy chief of the Aircraft Maintenance Branch. The information they gather is used for track forecasting and research purposes.

“The data collected by these aircraft, makes our forecasts up to 20% better,” said Brennan. “Our forecasters take that information and use it to issue five-day forecasts of where the storm is going and most importantly those hazards … the rainfall, the storm surge, the winds … and where those worst conditions could occur,” he said. “We provide that information to local meteorological service and then they issue forecasts, watches, and warnings for their local populations.”

This sharing of forecasts and data has been done for many decades. North America, Central America and the Caribbean reside in region four of the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, was created in 1947 to facilitate worldwide cooperation in sharing meteorological information and observations and to standardize the field and encourage research and training.

The CHAT is one way the NHC builds relationships with the countries in their region, which is why Brennan and NHC and National Weather Service forecasters meet with elected officials, meteorological services, civil protection agencies, and media partners at each location.

With a trend of rapidly intensification in hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Ida, Ian and Idalia in past years, Brennan advised residents in hurricane prone areas to be prepared for storms that can develop in a few days.

Capt. Amaryllis Cotto, 53rd WRS ARWO and a native of Puerto Rico, experienced the wrath of Maria in 2017, and knows first-hand how important it is to be weather ready.

“For this upcoming tropical cycle season, environmental conditions are setting up to be an active storm season, especially for the Caribbean,” said Cotto, who now works in Houston for the National Weather Service. “Due to the fact that Puerto Rico is very vulnerable to multiple storm threats during the season, it is critical to bring the most accurate information to government authorities and public for preparedness and recovery efforts. This year’s CHAT in Puerto Rico was to advise the public and government agencies to be prepared well before any storm becomes a threat to the island, to have a plan and the safety kits ready to go, and to have multiple methods of receiving the local weather and hurricane forecast updates.”

There isn’t always time to prepare just before a hurricane strikes so advance preparation is key.

“You may not have a week to watch a tropical wave to come off the coast of Africa; a system could develop close by and intensify quickly,” said Brennan. “That is why this outreach mission is so important; sharing our information with other countries and raising the public's awareness can save lives and property."

For more information on how to prepare for the upcoming season, visit