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Hurricane Hunters track winter storms

Story by
Master Sgt. Brian Lamar
403rd Wing Public Affairs

150123-F-YX711-001KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The Hurricane Hunters of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron deployed Jan. 23 and 26 to monitor winter storms "Iola and Juno," that ravaged the East Coast with nearly 70 mile per hour winds and snowfall of nearly three feet.

The National Weather Service tasked the Hunters to employ dropsondes in a large loop pattern nearly 200 miles off the East coast between Jacksonville, Florida and the Outer Banks, North Carolina Friday and between the North/South Carolina line and New York Sunday to measure the weather ahead of the winter storm.

"We fly predetermined tracks that the National Weather Service have designed for these types of storms," said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, the squadron senior meteorologist.

"We are known as the Hurricane Hunters, but we do fly winter storms. Most people do not realize that this is a very important mission because winter storms traditionally cost more American lives each year than tropical weather," said Talbot.

Although the National Hurricane Center tasks the 53rd with aerial weather reconnaissance mission in the summer, the aircraft are tasked by the National Weather Service's National Center for Environmental Prediction for winter weather. The current agreement for the squadron is to fly up to twice each day for NCEP.

The reconnaissance flights for winter storms are conducted differently than tropical reconnaissance. The squadron averages to pick up between 6-12 winter mission each year, according to Lt. Col. Valerie Hendry, the aerial reconnaissance weather officer who flew ahead of the severe winter weather Friday.

"We are not heading to the eye of the storm, we are flying ahead of the storm, but often have to fly through the frontal," said Hendry.

"Over the land there is radar to collect data. There are also people releasing weather balloons. Out over the Atlantic, there are no balloons or radar," said Hendry.

According to the Hunters, timing is crucial and punctuality is critical to mission success.

Unlike tropical weather system data collection, the National Weather Service only populates the forecast models twice a day with satellite data and the real-time weather data such as wind speed, barometric pressure and humidity from the weather reconnaissance aircraft.

"The winters storm missions are timed precisely so that data flows right into the computer models almost instantaneously," said Hendry.

The data plays a major role in the way local governments on the ground react to severe weather warnings.

"With a storm like this, the data from a flight is a big deal, it is important that we get the extra data. The more data the forecasters have, the better they will be able to predict the strength and path of the storm. It is important that we get out there and get that data for the forecast models," Lt. Col. Brian Schroeder, an ARWO with the 53rd WRS.

The squadron takes winter storms as serious as a hurricane. Because winter storms can cripple a community and cost lives.

"There are occasionally winter storms that have a great economic impact. Winter storms can cause power outages and then you have the rainmakers that can cause heavy flooding. They can be very damaging," said Hendry.

Although the Hunters are only flying their 3rd winter mission of the year, they continue to stay poised for anything thrown their way.

"We will continue to do the mission and assist with weather reconnaissance because we are needed to stay ready and vigilant," said Talbot.