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Hurricane Hunters Get Into the Swing of Things During First Mission of the Hurricane Season

Even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Prediction Center has forecasting a mostly calm Atlantic hurricane season, that doesn’t mean the “Hurricane Hunters” of the U.S. Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS) won’t be busy. On June 6, the Hurricane Hunter flew the first of likely many storm reconnaissance missions of the 2014 hurricane season.

During the mission, the the 53rd WRS gathered weather data from the southwest quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico. Based at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the Hurricane Hunters were tasked for the mission after the National Hurricane Center (NHC) identified a potential tropical disturbance in that area via satellite data. “When a storm looks like it might begin to form, the NHC sends us there to gather real-time data. When we get there, we will be looking for a circulation of wind in all four quadrants of the area around the low pressure center,” said Maj. John Brady, an aerial reconnaissance officer with the 53rd WRS, in an Air Force release.

“When a storm looks like it might begin to form, the NHC sends us there to gather real-time data. When we get there, we will be looking for a circulation of wind in all four quadrants of the area around the low pressure center.”

The NHC satellite data indicated a wind speed of approximately 30-knots. “If we find that the winds are circulating around the low-pressure center, the NHC could classify this as a tropical depression,” Brady said.

When a storm is in its infancy, the Hurricane Hunters’ WC-130 Hercules fly at low altitudes of 1,000 feet. This is in order to stay under the “weather.” As storms strengthen in intensity the WC-130s fly at altitudes of 10,000 feet.

2014 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA graphic

The first mission of the season got off to an inauspicious start when Brady noticed a fuel leak from his window and the WC-130 has to return to Keesler. The crew shifted to another aircraft and restarted the mission.

The four hour maintenance delay changed the scoop of the mission. “By the time they get down there, it’s possible that part of the storm may be overland in Mexico. Their new objective will be a coast patrol mission. They will most likely fly five miles offshore and gather wind speed data,” said Lt. Col. John Talbot, the 53rd WRS’ chief meteorologist.”I use the first storm to clean out the cobwebs and my comfort level comes back. After this one, I feel prepared for the rest of the season.”

“I use the first storm to clean out the cobwebs and my comfort level comes back. After this one, I feel prepared for the rest of the season.” The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

The Hurricane Hunters searched for the low-pressure center, but the center had already passed overland. It is likely that the storm will break apart and weaken over Mexico. After the mission, the NHC canceled future flights into that storm system.

Data gathered by the 53rd WRS prompted the NHC to release an update concerning the storm system. “Surface observations and reports from an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft indicate that the center of the low-pressure system near Vera Cruz is just inland. However, some chance for development still remains because the center is very near the coast and a slow and erratic motion is possible overnight. Regardless of whether any development occurs, this system will continue to produce gusty winds and heavy rains, along with life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, over portions of southeastern and eastern Mexico during the next day or two.”

WC-130 Hercules

A 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron WC-130 Hercules is hosed down after completing a flight over the Gulf of Mexico, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., June 5, 2013. The water pressure removes salt that accumulates on the aircraft when it flies through storms over the ocean. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Lee

Though the first storm of the season didn’t evolve into a named storm system, according to Brady it was still good preparation for the rest of the long hurricane season. “I use the first storm to clean out the cobwebs and my comfort level comes back. After this one, I feel prepared for the rest of the season.” The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...