Hurricane Hunters fly into record season |
Posted 10/20/2005 Updated 10/20/2005
by Tech. Sgt. Jim Pritchett
403rd Wing Public Affairs
10/20/2005 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS -- Despite being displaced and working out of a temporary home, the men and women of the Hurricane Hunters are flying missions to track Hurricane Wilma.
The Hurricane Hunters, of Air Force Reserve Command’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, flew a WC-130J into Wilma measuring top sustained winds of 175 mph early Oct. 19. The storm registered a minimum barometric pressure of 882 millibars, the lowest ever observed in the Atlantic basin.
"The message is that the season is certainly not over," said Max Mayfield, hurricane center director. "People on the Gulf Coast are going to have to watch Wilma. There's no scenario that takes it toward Louisiana or Mississippi, but that could change."
Fueled and strengthened by the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean Sea, Wilma became a Category 5 hurricane, the most intense storms on the five-step scale. The Safir-Simpson scale reserves the Category 5 intensity rating for storms with winds exceeding 175 mph.
With data provided by the 403rd Wing reservists, the National Hurricane Center in Miami was able to determine that Wilma was briefly stronger than any Atlantic storm on record, including Hurricane Katrina. Katrina devastated the Hurricane Hunters’ home base and local communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August. Rita, another storm demonstrating an extremely low central pressure, hit the Texas-Louisiana coast in September.
Wilma is the Atlantic hurricane season's 12th hurricane and its 21st named storm, tying the record set in 1933, and last equaled in 1969. It has also exhausted the available list of storm name letters, since Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used. If more storms form this season, letters from the Greek alphabet will be used, beginning with Alpha. Doing so would be a first since the naming of storms began in 1953.
That has never happened in the 60 years that Atlantic storms have been named.
Wilma's top winds weakened to 155 mph late Oct. 19. It was still a powerful and dangerous Category 4 storm, and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said it could strengthen again.
After the hurricane became a Category 4 storm, the Hurricane Hunters continued flying aircraft in and out of the storm about every six hours, providing fixes to the hurricane center around the clock.
Four storms – Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma – have formed as of Oct. 20, double the month’s average of two storms. Six is the record, set in October 1950 and 1887. Hurricane records date back to 1851.
The hurricane season ends Nov. 30 and, although activity in the Atlantic Basin decreases, tropical storms and hurricanes are still possible. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records show that, on average, one storm forms in November, every three years. In the past, as many as two storms have formed in November, most recently in 2001.
With the Hurricane Hunters scheduled to return home to Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Miss., Nov. 2, they are planning to ensure a smooth transition and to keep their mission going as they have throughout the season.