Air Force Featured Stories

NOAA, Hurricane Hunters team up for awareness tour

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircrew with their WC-130J Hercules and a team of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane forecasters visited three Mexican and two Caribbean cities May 4-11 as part of the annual Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour.

The CHAT, a joint effort between NOAA's National Hurricane Center and the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, promotes hurricane awareness and preparedness throughout the Caribbean region.

This outreach program began in the 1970s, and is conducted annually prior to hurricane season. Last year, the tour was cancelled due to Sequestration.

More than 4,000 people attended this year's tour, which stopped at Manzanillo, Zihuatanejo and Huatulco, Mexico, St. Vincent, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. About 500 people toured the aircraft in Puerto Rico May 10 before the static display was cancelled due to inclement weather. In previous years, anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people toured the aircraft in Puerto Rico.

"The tour strengthens our relationships with these countries' meteorological services, civil protection agencies, elected officials, and media partners that all work together to enhance public safety during the hurricane season," said Dr. Richard Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center, a NOAA facility in Miami, Florida.

"The NHC works closely with Mexico and many other countries throughout the Caribbean region to share vital weather observations and data that assist in tracking tropical cyclones and in issuing warnings," Knabb said.

The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters assist the NHC, Mexico and Caribbean nations in improving their hurricane forecasts by providing critical storm data utilizing the WC-130J, said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, the 53rd WRS chief meteorologist.

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, Talbot said.

"Another benefit due to the CHAT is that these countries usually grant us overflight clearances for our storm missions, which saves time and money," Talbot said.

At each CHAT location, Knabb and representatives from the countries' meteorological services and disaster preparedness agencies briefed local officials and the media about the impact of hurricanes in the region and the importance of being prepared. After the press conferences, the public toured the WC-130J and crewmembers briefed them about their mission and how data is collected and transmitted to the NHC for their forecasts.

Karen Santiago, a third grader at Escuela Primaria Francisco Cabrera, Huatulco, Mexico, attended the event with her class.

The future meteorologist said she enjoys learning about severe weather such as storms and tornadoes, and the highlight of her day was touring the WC-130J.

"It's beautiful," she said. "And, I liked learning about the dropsonde."

Although last year was one of the calmest hurricane seasons on record for the United States, with only two hurricanes overall in the Atlantic basin, Mexico wasn't so fortunate. The country was hit by eight storms; five were tropical storms and three were hurricanes. In September, Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel caused the most damage to the country. The storms struck simultaneously within a 24-hour period affecting two-thirds of Mexico, killing 155 people and causing $5.7 billion in damage, according to NOAA. In all, about 185 people lost their lives during the 2013 hurricane season.

"These countries have the same issues that we have in the United States with people either being complacent or ignoring the storm warnings and not evacuating when they should," Knabb said. "That's why this outreach mission is so important. We work together to educate the public, especially the children who can encourage their families to prepare for this hurricane season. By raising the public's awareness, we can save lives and property."