August 14, 2007 (by Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais) - As Hurricane Flossie made its way across the Pacific, a few Airmen were doing the unthinkable -- making trips directly into the eye of the Category 4 storm.
AFRC WC-130J 96-5300 from the 53rd WRS at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi takes off to hunt another hurricane. The parent 403rd is the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service. [USAF photo]
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii - Airmen of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's Hurricane Hunters out of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., flew missions into the storm from Hickam AFB, gathering information National Weather Service officials use to classify storms and predict their behavior.
The hurricane, with winds more than 131 mph, is on track to come close to Oahu, and officials at military installations on Hawaii ran their checklists and prepared for the storm.
"We have a meteorologist on board who takes different readings," said Capt. Brad Boudreaux, a C-130 Hercules pilot with the 53rd WRS. "We can measure temperature and pressure, winds, all the way from our altitude down to the surface."
All that information goes to the National Weather Service, which pools it with data from various other sources.
"They can compute it all and put it all together and let everybody know where the storm's headed and what to expect from it," Captain Bordeaux said.
Chasing storms is a risky business. For all the advances satellite technology brought to meteorology, it still can't be used to determine wind speed and barometric pressure -- two of the things forecasters use to predict a hurricane's size and path.
Ships cannot usually be used either, since the winds of such storms create dangerous waves.
For that data, one must go up inside the storm itself.
"We go right into it," Captain Boudreaux said. "Once you poke through the wall -- go into the eye of the storm -- everything kind of smoothes out for a while, and then you go right back through it again."
Air Force Reserve Command officials sent four of the specially equipped C-130 Hurricane Hunters to Hickam AFB. With these aircraft, the 53rd WRS crews can make as many trips into the storm as necessary to provide the most current data to the National Weather Center.