KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Harvey began as a scattered collection of clouds drifting across the Atlantic Ocean and in just over a week has developed into a category two hurricane.
Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters, have been flying Hurricane Harvey since Aug. 17. The data they’ve collected every day has contributed to the National Hurricane Center’s ability to determine the intensity of the storm and predict where it could go.
Each storm mission is flown in a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft by a crew made up of at least two pilots, a navigator, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer and a loadmaster. Many of these Reserve Citizen Airmen travel from around the country to be a part of the mission and only a small percent of the squadron are full time air reserve technicians. The rest are traditional reservists who show up when called and put their civilian jobs and their home lives on hold to fly into storms.
During the 10 flights into Hurricane Harvey so far, the Hurricane Hunters have flown through the eye of the storm dozens of times. During each pass through the eye, the loadmaster releases a dropsonde that measures wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point and pressure. Data collected by the dropsondes, a Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer and visual observations by the ARWO is then transmitted to the NHC every ten minutes throughout the duration of the mission.
“The data we collect is essential to the NCH right now because the capabilities of satellites and drones is just not there yet,” said Maj. Kimberly Spusta, 53rd WRS ARWO. “To go into the center of the storm to get that data is critical so the NHC can have the most accurate forecasts possible.”
Hurricane Harvey in particular is a quickly developing storm. After entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it took less than 24 hours for the system to grow from a tropical depression into a hurricane.
“As the Hurricane Hunters our data is time sensitive and critical for the NHC,” Maj. Kendall Dunn, 53rd WRS pilot said. “This storm is rapidly intensifying. Between the last flight that landed and our flight taking off, the conditions have changed, so it’s important that we continue to send the NCH the most current and accurate data we can.”
Col. Robert Stanton, 403rd Wing vice commander, said that it’s important to take NHC watches and warnings seriously because he’s seen first-hand the damage a hurricane can cause after arriving on the Gulf Coast just months before Katrina hit.
“There were so many people that thought because their home had made it through Hurricane Camille in 1969 that they were safe,” he said. “But even though Katrina was only a category three storm and Camille was a five, the amount of water that she swept up the Gulf Coast was devastating.”
The 53rd WRS will continue to fly Hurricane Harvey and collect data until the storm makes landfall. To stay up to date on the most current forecast and tasked missions visit https://www.403wg.afrc.af.mil/media/hurricane-center.