Hurricane Awareness Tour promotes weather readiness

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

To promote the importance of preparing now for hurricane season, which starts June 1, the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircrew with their WC-130J Super Hercules and a team of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane experts visited five Atlantic Coast cities as part of this year’s Hurricane Awareness Tour May 6-10.

The tour, which coincides with National Hurricane Preparedness week, stopped at the Portland International Jetport, Maine; Albany International Airport, New York; Norfolk International Airport, Virginia; Charleston International Airport, South Carolina; and Sanford International Airport, Florida.

The week-long event is a joint effort between NOAA's National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service, and the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to promote awareness about the destructive forces of hurricanes and how people can be weather ready. 

“Now is the time to prepare,” said Mike Brennan, Ph.D., director, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. “Now is the time to gather that emergency kit, to know your risk, and know if you live in a flood-prone area as you may be asked to evacuate. That will form the entire basis of your hurricane plan because you need to know where you are going to go and how you are going to get there. Don’t wait for a storm to threaten – by then it may be too late.”

“This is an important outreach mission,” said Maj Alex Boykin, 53rd WRS pilot and mission commander. “It highlights the vital role the squadron has in gathering data for NHC forecasts, and it also strengthens relationships with meteorological services, civil protection agencies, elected officials and media partners who all work together to promote the importance of being ready for hurricane season. The better we can get the message out, allowing the public to make informed decisions, the more lives we can save. This event also educates not just adults but also hundreds of children who can take this severe weather preparedness message back to their families.”

In addition to emergency response and information booths, the public and media toured the WC-130J aircraft, one of 10 specially configured aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and NOAA’s WP-3D, both of which are used to gather critical data for hurricane forecasts models. Weather forecasters rely on satellites for information; however, they can’t provide information such as the minimum sea level pressure of a hurricane, wind speed information, or information about the storm structure, which is needed to predict hurricane development and movement, said Lt. Col. Jeremy Dehart, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. 

During a tropical storm or hurricane, 53rd WRS aircrews fly into these systems with the WC130J aircraft at altitudes that range from 500 to 1,500 feet for low-level investigations and up to 10,000 feet for fix missions. During a fix mission, they 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 barometric pressure data. The crew also collects surface wind speed and flight-level data. This information is transmitted to the NHC to assist them with their storm warnings and hurricane forecast models in the Atlantic, Caribbean and eastern Pacific. 

“The data that the aircraft collect all goes into the forecast models and improves the forecast and intensity forecast by 10 to 20 percent,” Brennan said. “Our forecasters take that information and use it to issue five-day forecasts of where the storm is going and most importantly those hazards…the rainfall, the storm surge, the winds…and where those worst conditions could occur,” he said.

Forecast experts predict the 2024 hurricane season could be the most active on record, however, the reality is it only takes one devastating storm to make it a bad hurricane season for any community. Which is why NOAA partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service, and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, with the #HurricaneStrong campaign. Throughout the week, officials encouraged people who live in hurricane prone areas to know their risk due to storm surge, inland flooding and winds.

Even though Maine and New York are not known for direct hits from major hurricanes they have several tropical threats that citizens should take serious, such as high winds, storm surge, heavy rainfall, and inland flooding.

“It doesn’t take 10 or 20 inches of rain, especially in mountainous areas like upstate New York,” said Brennan. “You can have just a few inches of rainfall very quickly in high terrain that can cause rapid flash flooding in creeks and streams, and downstream river flooding. Rainfall flooding has been the deadliest hazard in tropical storms and hurricanes in the United States in the last 10 years, killing over 200 people. That hazard can occur well inland … it can occur from tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes, and they don’t have to make direct landfall in the Northeastern United States to provide that dangerous rainfall flooding.”

Storms such as Hurricane Ida in 2021 and Hurricane Camille in 1969 made landfall on the Gulf Coast and the remnants of those storms had devastating impacts in the Northeast and Virginia due to flooding. The remnants of Ida moved up into the Northeastern United States and killed more than 20 people in New York. In 1969, Hurricane Camille killed 113 people in Virginia due to flash floods and mudslides caused by heavy rains. And Hurricane Irene, which made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina Aug. 27, 2011, re-emerged the next day in the Atlantic and made two additional landfalls as a tropical storm in New Jersey and New York. Throughout its path, Irene caused $13.5 billion in damage and 47 deaths in 13 states.

“It doesn’t take a major hurricane or a direct hurricane landfall along the coast to make major impacts,” said Brennan.

In addition to stressing the importance of knowing their risk due to storm surge, inland flooding and winds, and having a hurricane preparedness plan, evacuation plan and disaster supply kits, updating insurance and strengthening homes to meet building codes, Brennan also encouraged people to be good neighbors.

“Make hurricane preparedness a community effort. We all have to take care of our friends, neighbors, and relatives,” said Brennan. “Talk to your neighbors. Talk to people who have moved to a hurricane prone area from somewhere where they may not know what those hazards are; this is the time to share your knowledge and experience with them to help then get ready for the season.” 

For Dehart, taking part in awareness efforts such as this tour is part of his job.

“I love the mission and to be able to educate people about what we do and to see how quickly it has an impact; there are so many people who rely on our data; not just the National Hurricane Center and their forecasters but the data goes into the weather models; it goes out to emergency managers and people who need to make decisions that affect people’s livelihoods,” he said. “We have a mission and that’s to protect people’s lives and property. Everything we do to gather data is to improve NHC forecasts and models. So, I encourage people to heed those watches and warnings and pay attention to the impacts of the storm and prepare now.”

For information on how to prepare for hurricane season, visit