June 19, 2017 (by Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo) - The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is tasked to fly two tropical systems in the Gulf of Mexico today, one east of the Lesser Antilles and another south of the Yucatan.
The AFRC's 53rd WRS WC-130J #97-5306 "Hurricane Hunters" depart Keesler AFB, Mississippi, May 31, 2017, to take part in the USN's Gulf of Mexico Oceanography Unmanned Systems Operational Demonstration. The squadron collected weather data for the U.S. Navy May 30 to June 2, 2017, as part of the event. [USAF photo by Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo]
The Hurricane Hunters deployed to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, over the weekend, and are scheduled to fly their first low level investigation mission today. Another crew will fly a LLI mission out of Keesler Air Force Base today into the system south of the Yucatan.
LLI missions are flown at 500 to 1,500 feet to determine if the system has a closed low level center, indicating a storm is becoming more organized and increasing in strength, said Maj. Ryan Rickert, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. He is a member of the only Department of Defense organization that flies into tropical storms and hurricanes, a mission that began in 1944.
Once a system becomes a tropical storm or hurricane, the Hurricane Hunters begin flying "fix" missions, which are at higher altitudes, ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 feet depending on the severity of the storm, said Rickert. The squadron is scheduled to fly a fix mission tomorrow off the coast of the Yucatan.
Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During each pass through the eye, they release a dropsonde, which collects weather data on its descent to the ocean surface, specifically gathering the surface winds and pressure.
The data the Hurricane Hunters collect is sent by satellite communication to the National Hurricane Center to assist them with their forecasts and storm warnings.
According the NHC, both systems have the potential to become tropical storms over the next 48 hours.
"It’s important to be prepared. It’s why we do this, so we can have better forecasts and people have time to prepare and evacuate," said Rickert.