It is hurricane season and the Air Force’s famous Hurricane Hunters are in high demand.
Last week, hurricane Douglas began spinning up, gaining strength, and appeared to be tracking towards Hawaii. Responding to the storm, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base out of Mississippi, sent three specialized WC-130J Super Hercules to Hawaii. The planes are armed with sophisticated meteorological equipment.
According to the Air Force Times, which first covered this story, Major Grant Wagner, the mission commander, explained that these planes and their mission are a necessary tool to help gather pertinent storm data that other technologies are not capable of doing.
Wagner explained that “the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are data-sparse environments as they lack radar and weather balloons in the area. We are able to get into the storm, find the center, and get that ground truth data that assists with movement and intensity forecasts. The data we collect can improve a forecast by anywhere from 15 to 25 percent.”
According to the press release, these specialized C-130s collect data by flying into the eye of the storm and dropping a dropsonde. As the dropsonde falls to the surface of the ocean, it collects data such as wind speed and direction, temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity. The C-130 also hosts an array of sensors that are constantly measuring wind speed and flight level information. All of the data collected is constantly being sent to the National Hurricane Center and in this case, to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center as well.
The Hurricane Hunters began flying into Hurricane Douglas on Friday, out of Barbers Point Kapolei. At that point, Douglas was a Category 4. Because the storm looked like it may directly impact Hawaii, the aircrews moved to the Kona International Airport and flew five more missions into the eye of the storm. Thankfully, the storm weakened to a Category 2 and missed Hawaii.
In the press release, Eric Lau, a Pacific Region National Weather Service meteorologist, said: “The data that’s provided by the Hurricane Hunters is very valuable. That ground truth data really helps forecasters here; having the most up-to-date information on the storm helps us to provide the best forecast possible.”
Hurricane Douglas was not the only storm the Hurricane Hunters were tracking. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron sent three WC-130J’s to St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their mission was to fly into Hurricane Hannah, which made landfall in Southern Texas as a Category 1 this past Saturday. They also sent another plane into Tropical Storm Gonzalo, which was spinning in the Gulf of Mexico. Gonzalo storm deteriorated and never made landfall.
In total, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron has 10 planes, manned by 10 active duty crews and 10 reservist crews. They are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice and take Mother Nature head-on.