KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Hurricane season begins June 1 and now is the time to prepare. To promote this message, an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircrew with their WC-130J Super Hercules and a team of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane experts visited five Gulf Coast cities as part of this year's Hurricane Awareness Tour May 7 through 11, 2018.
The Hurricane Awareness Tour, or HAT, which stopped at the McAllen Miller International Airport, McAllen, Texas; Jack Brooks Regional Airport, Beaumont, Texas; Baton Rouge Metro Airport, Ryan Field, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Montgomery Regional Airport, Montgomery, Alabama; and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, Lakeland, Florida, is a joint effort between NOAA's National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center and the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to promote awareness about the destructive forces of hurricanes and how people can prepare.
"We enjoy taking part in the Hurricane Awareness Tour each year because it highlights the vital role the squadron has in gathering data for NHC forecasts," said Col. Brian May, 403rd Operations Group commander. "What the Hurricane Hunters do strengthens relationships with our meteorological services, civil protection agencies, elected officials, and media partners that all work in a collaborative effort to enhance public awareness during hurricane season."
However, even with a perfect forecast, the storms still come, said Ken Graham, the new NHC director who was the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Slidell, Louisiana, for years.
"That is why we are here," Graham said. "It's all about preparedness; it's about being ready for the next storm. Whether it's a busy season or not a busy season it only takes one storm."
The awareness tour was also in conjunction with National Hurricane Preparedness Week. NOAA partnered with FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Housing, with the #HurricaneStrong campaign. Throughout the week, officials encouraged people who live in hurricane prone areas to know their risk due to storm surge, inland flooding and winds, to have an evacuation plan and disaster supply kit, make sure they have adequate insurance, and strengthen their home to meet hurricane building codes. They also stressed the importance of being a good neighbor before and after a hurricane and to have a written plan to ensure everyone in the household is prepared for the next storm.
Emergency response and informational booths were set up at all the stops to encourage residents to prepare for the upcoming season. The public and media also got the chance to tour the WC-130J aircraft, one of 10 specially configured aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and NOAA's G-IV both used to gather critical weather data for hurricane forecast models. While the NOAA G-IV, flies at high altitude around and ahead of a tropical cyclone, the WC-130J flies through the hurricane at 10,000 feet.
During a tropical storm or hurricane, 53rd WRS crews 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 surface pressure data. The crew also collects surface wind speed data and flight level data. This information is transmitted to the NHC to assist them with their storm warnings and hurricane forecast models in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. During a typical year, the squadron will fly 60 to 100 missions for the NHC.
Last year was a busy season for the Hurricane Hunters. The 53rd WRS flew more than 800 hours during more than 90 missions into 12 named storms.
"We fly into these storms to gather data to improve the accuracy of NHC forecasts and ultimately for people's safety so they can make an informed decision to stay or evacuate," said Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa, 53rd WRS pilot. "We ask that people pay attention to these forecasts and heed the evacuation orders."
While the tour ended in Lakeland, Florida, May 11, the Hurricane Hunters were preparing for the upcoming season by getting ready for the annual "Roll Out" mission in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, the forward operating location at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Forecasters from Colorado State University are predicting that the season will be more active than usual. Whether the season meets or exceeds the predictions, the 53rd WRS will be ready.