KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 2022 Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons came to an official end Nov. 30, marking another destructive season of tropical weather for the continental United States’ Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard and Puerto Rico. The season also marked another busy season for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
The 53rd WRS is an Air Force Reserve WC-130J Super Hercules flying unit that specializes in aerial reconnaissance of a multitude of weather events as outlined by the National Hurricane Season Operations Plan and the National Winter Season Operations Plan.
During hurricane season, aircrews stay prepared for a variety of taskings that could come with very short notice and could require them to deploy anywhere from the East Coast to the Caribbean to Hawaii. They support the National Hurricane Center’s forecasters by collecting atmospheric data in systems from early in their developmental stages to major hurricanes.
The NHOP requires the squadron to be able to support recon for three systems at a time and be able to support up to five sorties per a 24-hour period. Types of missions include low-level invests, vortex fixes, and synoptic surveillance missions.
The squadron’s first missions came at the end of May when they flew Hurricane Agatha in the Pacific followed by Tropical Storm Alex in the Gulf of Mexico the first week of June. While the season got off to a fast start for the unit, according to Warren Madden, Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination, All Hurricanes, the first three months accounted for only 15% of flying hours between the 53rd WRS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aircraft Operations Center, with the other 85% occurring from Sept. 1 to Nov. 10.
“If that 71-day stretch were to stand on its own, it would rank as the third busiest flying season of the last ten years,” said Madden. “This concentrated stretch of flying presented numerous challenges for all involved. We’re grateful for everyone’s dedication, hard work, and patience as we all worked together to provide the forecasters and computer models with the highest quality data.”
Of the 1,564.8 tropical cyclone reconnaissance hours flown, the 53rd WRS accounted for 1,095.5 of those hours. They flew a total of 109 missions into 13 named storms. Among those storms were Hurricanes Ian and Nicole that severely impacted Florida and Hurricane Fiona that made landfall in Puerto Rico.
“Every season is unique and brings new challenges, and the dedication of personnel across the board never waivers,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Pituch, 53rd WRS commander. “There was a stretch where the tempo was very high and very demanding, and I’m just proud of the execution from all involved in order to accomplish the mission and provide that valuable, life-saving data.”
Hurricane season is over, but the members of the 53rd WRS have no offseason as they turn their focus to their coast-to-coast winter season operations supporting atmospheric river and winter storm reconnaissance efforts.