KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. —
The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is flying missions into Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean and Hurricane Olivia over the Pacific Ocean this week.
The 53rd WRS is the only Defense Department unit that flies reconnaissance missions into severe tropical weather during the hurricane season, June 1 through Nov. 30, to gather data for the National Hurricane Center to improve the center’s forecasts and storm warnings.
The Hurricane Hunters’ first mission into Florence is Monday, and they began flying into Olivia today, said Maj. Jeremy DeHart, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer.
The Hurricane Hunters departed Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, today to operate out of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, Savannah, Georgia, for Florence reconnaissance. Florence became a hurricane today and could impact the southeast coast, according to the NHC.
The Hurricane Hunters arrived at Kalaeloa Airport, Hawaii, Saturday and will continue missions into Hurricane Olivia as long as the system remains a threat to the Hawaiian Islands, said DeHart. Olivia is expected to affect the islands by Tuesday, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are data sparse environments due to the lack of radar and weather balloons in those areas, and satellite data can be incomplete, so the data the Hurricane Hunters provide is vital, potentially saving lives and property, said DeHart. During a hurricane, crews fly through the storms at 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, flying through the eye of a storm four to six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation. During each pass through the center, they release a dropsonde, which collects weather data such as surface winds and pressure on its descent to the ocean surface. This information is sent to NHC by satellite communication every 10 minutes.
Providing this data to the NHC will keep the squadron busy this week, but it’s not unusual for the squadron to fly multiple storms at the same time, said Dehart. The squadron’s area of operations is vast, extending from the middle of the Atlantic to just past the Hawaiian Islands, and through an inter-agency agreement, tropical weather reconnaissance is governed by the National Hurricane Operations Plan. This plan requires the squadron to support 24-hour-a-day continuous operations, with the ability to fly up to three storms simultaneously with response times of 16 hours.
Last year, was the 10th busiest season on record, and the squadron flew Hurricanes Katia, Jose, and Irma simultaneously.
This month looks to be a busy one as well for the Hurricane Hunters. There are two other storms behind Florence. According to the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Depression Nine became Tropical Storm Isaac Saturday afternoon in the Atlantic and may become a hurricane on Monday. Following Isaac, is Tropical Storm Helene, which is expected to become a hurricane later today.