August 27, 2015 (by Asif Shamim) - The U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters are operating out of Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, flying WC-130J Hurricane Hunters into Tropical Storm Erika in support of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
USAF WC-130J #99-5309 from 53 WRS sits on the flightline at Homestead ARB on August 27. 2015. Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron out of Keesler AFB, came to Homestead ARB to gather data on hurricane behaviors by observing Hurricane Erika as it makes its way across the Caribbean. [USAF photo by SSgt. Jaimi Upthegrove]
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew four missions into TS Erika out of their deployed location at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Due to the storm's projected path, operations moved to Homestead ARB Aug. 27.
The NHC reports that TS Erika is moving west toward the Virgin Islands today, to the north of Puerto Rico tonight and north of the Dominican Republic by Friday.
The unit is assigned to the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base and Citizen Airmen of the 53rd WRS are tasked by the NHC to provide data used to forecast the path of nature's most destructive storms.
Data the Hurricane Hunters provide to NHC is vital, potentially saving lives and property, said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, senior meteorologist with the 53rd WRS. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are data-sparse environments due to the lack of radar and weather observations in those areas and satellite data can be incomplete.
"Other observation systems help but don't give you the whole story," said Talbot. "From satellites, you can see a hurricane and the eye of the hurricane. However, the satellite can't tell you the exact wind speeds on the surface and what the central pressure is. The only way to get the ground truth data is to fly an aircraft into the storm and directly measure the surface winds and pressure, which is very important for the computer models that forecast movement and intensity."
Information collected by the Hurricane Hunters increases accuracy of the NHC forecast by up to 20 percent, allowing the NHC to more accurately forecast the path of storms in order to save lives and narrow areas of evacuation, he added.