KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 403rd Wing’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron recently completed the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour, in which the public had the opportunity to learn about the aerial weather reconnaissance mission and the importance of being prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.
“The main goal of the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour is to promote and encourage people to be prepared for severe tropical weather before the hurricane season begins,” said Jamie Rhome, National Hurricane Center deputy director. “Having a hurricane plan in place ahead of hurricane season saves everyone time when time is limited, and action is needed to be safe during a storm.”
This year the Hurricane Hunters were able to showcase their Reserve Citizen Airmen crew and the WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft. The tour stops were Mexico, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Puerto Rico.
“The CHAT was a great experience for all of us,” said Maj. Philip Blancher, 53rd WRS pilot. “It’s not every day we get to interact with the international public that our mission supports, so having the chance to meet them face-to-face was amazing.”
The 53rd WRS, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, is an Air Force Reserve unit, and is the only Department of Defense organization that conducts this mission. The unit flies the WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft, which is configured with meteorological equipment to gather data for the NHC, in Miami, to improve their forecasts.
“The look on children’s faces when you tell them the plane flies into hurricanes is priceless, but it is awe-inspiring because no other unit does the mission we do,” said Blancher. “Knowing that our missions are critical for the nation makes my passion for flying that much more meaningful and rewarding.”
A normal weather crew consists of five Airmen, which are two pilots, navigator, aerial reconnaissance weather officer, and loadmaster. The pilots fly the plane, the navigator assists the pilots stay on course, the ARWO quality checks the weather data and transmits it to the NHC, and the loadmaster assists the ARWO by launching dropsondes for data collection.
Throughout the CHAT the crews shared their stories about missions flying into storms, crew positions, and facts about the aircraft.
“Having the opportunity to meet and inform the communities that are vulnerable to severe storms is always an exciting and humbling experience,” said 1st Lt. Amaryllis Cotto, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. “It’s an awesome feeling being able to use my bilingual skills to bridge the communication gap and talk to the Spanish speaking public about the importance of being prepared and the weather warnings and advisories. The ultimate goal is helping people stay safe.”
One area of Tropical weather forecasting that can be a seen as a direct visual impact due to the data collected by the Hurricane Hunters is the reduction of the cone of uncertainty. Some reports in the past have attributed up to a 25 percent reduction of the cone of uncertainty meaning a greater accuracy of forecasting where a hurricane will strike.
“We’re very grateful for the services the men and women of the Hurricane Hunters team provide for all of us,” said Mauricio Vila, Governor of Yucatán, Mexico. “We’re proud to be able to host this wonderful group of people that risk their lives on their very important missions.”
The Airmen, along with the NHC’s weather specialists, engaged with approximately 32,600 people, to include international dignitaries and partners, and 130 media outlets.
“It’s really hard to quantify the impact this kind of event makes with our Caribbean hosts,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Pituch, 53rd WRS commander. “The leadership of each city we stopped at were gracious hosts and grateful of our mission. Throughout the tour we amplified the importance of preparing now for the hurricane season and being ready for any severe weather. The goal at the end of the day is encouraging people to keep their families and each other safe.”