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Hurricane Hunters fly Beryl

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, a component of the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, has been working around the clock flying data gathering missions into Hurricane Beryl, the first major hurricane of what’s predicted to be a very active season.

The National Hurricane Center, with the Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination, All Hurricanes, tasked the Hurricane Hunters with flying Beryl June 30 out of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Mitchell, 53rd WRS, assistant director of operations.

“We have flown five missions into Beryl,” said Mitchell. “The latest pass this morning into Beryl put it at a category five, with 165 mile per hour sustained winds.”

On Saturday afternoon, Beryl became the strongest hurricane to develop this early in Atlantic with winds of 75 mph just 24 hours after the system was first formed as a tropical depression over the Atlantic Ocean.

The WC-130J Super Hercules aircrews flew the quickly developing system that became Hurricane Beryl, now a category five storm. According to the NHC, the eyewall of Beryl moving through the southern Windward Islands and is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it moves across the Caribbean Sea later this week.

The NHC also announced that a hurricane warning has been issued for Jamaica, where hurricane conditions are expected on Wednesday, with a hurricane watch in effect for the Cayman Islands. Other areas of interest in Belize, the Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, and the remainder of the southwestern Gulf of Mexico should monitor its progress.

The 53rd’s mission is unique to the Department of Defense as they are the only unit that flies into tropical weather events for the purpose of data collection.

“Our purpose during hurricane season is to collect and quality check the data in storm environments before sending it, in-flight, to forecasters to inject into models and to try and pinpoint the true center of a storm,” said Mitchell. “We’re often flying in data sparse regions, so being in a storm for as long as possible closes the gap of information that satellites may not be able to determine.”

To support the National Hurricane Operations Plan and the National Winter Season Operations Plan, the squadron has 10 WC-130J aircraft modified with specialized pallets for the weather officer and a dropsonde operator, a stepped frequency microwave radiometer attached to the co-pilot side wing, and two external fuel tanks. A standard aircrew consists of two pilots, a navigator, an ARWO, and a loadmaster.

The mission types for NHOP vary from low-level invests at 500-1,500 feet to flights into more developed systems at 10,000 feet, often in what’s called an “alpha pattern” that allows crews to sample all four quadrants of a tropical storm or hurricane as well as the center.

As Beryl makes its way across the Caribbean Sea, Mexico, the NHC forecasters are also watching another an area of low pressure, called AL96 which has environmental conditions that appear marginally conducive for the development of this system, and a tropical depression could form by the middle part of this week while it moves generally westward at 15 to 20 mph across the central and western tropical Atlantic.

The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to continue to fly Beryl until it makes landfall.