The The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, are part of the 403rd Wing based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Each crew is made up of two pilots, a navigator, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer and a Loadmaster or Dropsonde Systems Operator.
Captain Garrett Black, Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer, says, “As the weather officer we act as the mission director on board the WC 130-J. Our biggest piece is collecting the data from the aircraft sensors and releasing the information, making sure that data is as accurate as possible.”
The weather officer acts as the liaison between the pilots and navigators and the National Hurricane Center with the information he or she gathers.
Captain Black says, “We’re quality checking it and then we’re sending it to the National Hurricane Center, so that they can use that as a different piece for their forecasting puzzle to get the most accurate information to the world. It’s very important to understand not only know the strength and intensity of the storm, but we’re able to fly in the different quadrants of the storm to see how far out the winds go whether it’s tropical storm or hurricane and that affects storm surge which is obviously one of the biggest threats to the public.”
Some storms, however, pose more difficulties than others.
Captain Black says, “Most challenging missions are typically weaker storms, and oftentimes, they’re not even classified as storms yet. It may be some clouds and showers over the middle of the Atlantic that really no one’s paying attention to at that time.”
This year, the Hurricane Hunters are facing a new challenge – COVID-19.
“We’re standing by. We’re doing what we can to stay trained and stay proficient to make sure our instruments are still calibrated. We’re obviously listening to the CDC and doing what measures we can to be safe and healthy for ourselves and our family and the community, but we also have to be mission-ready.”
Hurricane preparation is the way for all of us to be ready, Captain Black explains. He says, “Taking the proper preparations now to make sure you’re being safe and following CDC guidelines but also having an understanding that hurricane season is not going to stop. Unfortunately, a lot of other things haven’t stopped, so I think that’s something to keep in mind. We need to be prepared for both and take actions for both.”
The Hurricane Hunters stay busy all year long. The squadron also flies into vicious Nor’Easters, Atmospheric Rivers, and even Pacific storms. For more information on the Hurricane Hunters, you can click here.