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Hurricane Hunters gather forecast data on record-breaking blizzard

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- The Hurricane Hunters of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew a different kind of mission from Keesler Air Force Base Jan. 22 to gather data on the blizzard that hit the Eastern Seaboard.

The blizzard began dropping snow on the area early Jan. 22, and was a record-setter for three cities, leaving 29.2 inches in Baltimore, 31.9 inches in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and 34 inches in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service.

The 53rd WRS crew flew along the eastern coast from Florida up to the New York City area over the Atlantic Ocean, dropping sondes ahead of the storm to gather information and to send it back to the NWS, where forecasts and predictions are made.

While the Hurricane Hunters are best known for flying into hurricanes, the winter storm mission is a bit different.

"A hurricane is more of a fluid flight with lots of changes, whereas with winter storms, everything is already set," said 1st Lt. Leesa Froelich, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. "We also fly as high as we possibly can, but in a hurricane we're at 10,000 feet."

"Much like in a hurricane, we drop sondes down to the surface that collect information on the storm's wind speed and direction, as well as the barometric pressure and temperature," said Staff Sgt. Jesse Jordan, a 53rd WRS loadmaster.

During the flight, reports were coming in that Washington D.C. had received 19 inches of snow, said Froelich. By Sunday, the city saw 22-35 inches of snow to the west, north and northwest of the Beltway, and 18-24 inches inside the Beltway.

The Hurricane Hunters flew two flights in this storm. This is the second winter storm the squadron has flown this year, but they continue to be ready for anything else that develops during this winter storm season.