KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Hurricane season might be over, but that does not mean the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” are through providing pertinent weather reconnaissance services to those potentially impacted by severe weather.
As of Nov. 1, the winter storm season began, and the 53rd took off for their first tasking of the season Dec. 15.
According to the 53rd’s Chief Aerial Weather Reconnaissance Officer Lt. Col. Kaitlyn Woods, the purpose of flying winter storms is very similar to flying tropical disturbances: collect data over the water where there are limited resources so the data can be injected into weather models in order to get a better forecast.
Unlike in tropical systems where the flights go right into the storm at altitudes ranging from 500-10,000 feet, the aircrews navigate their WC-130J aircraft at around 30,000 feet.
“For winter storms we don’t fly through the system; we fly in front of the system,” said Woods. “This particular one we are doing these next two days is a storm they believe is going to generate off the Gulf Stream off the East Coast, so we want to get ahead of the system to collect what the atmosphere currently looks like and how it will affect the incoming system.”
Additionally, fixes during hurricane season are requested by the National Hurricane Center and coordinated through the Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes team, both in Miami, but for winter storms the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in College Park, Maryland, a subsection of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, work with CARCAH to schedule taskings.
During the missions, dropsondes are released to collect atmospheric data such as dew point, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction to assist with forecasts. Woods said that the data they collect is transmitted to CARCAH who then disseminates it to the public where it is ingested into the NOAA models.
“These major winter weather systems often affect heavily populated areas such as New England, so the data we collect better helps with forecasting the max amount of wind speed, rainfall and/or snowfall, so those people can be better prepared,” said Woods.