Hurricane Hunters deploy to Hawaii to fly Guillermo

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, assigned to the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, deployed to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and began flying data-gathering missions into Hurricane Guillermo Aug. 2.

Hurricane Guillermo became a Category 2 storm July 31 with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. The weather data the Hurricane Hunters collected with their WC-130J Super Hercules helped to determine the storm was losing strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm the morning of Aug. 3.

Although the storm is expected to pass to the north of Hawaii, high-level sheer has torn the storm into two pieces and the upper part is projected to head north, while the lower half is projected to pass near enough to the islands to warrant a tropical storm warning on the Eastern Islands, according to Central Pacific Hurricane Center reports.

Although satellites provide a lot of information for forecasters they don't provide everything. This is where the Hurricane Hunters assist forecasters.

"Aerial reconnaissance trips through the hurricane are very critical in that they allow the forecasters to get some data that the satellites cannot quite do yet, which is determine the exact center of the hurricane, the strengths of the winds at the surface, and where that track may be headed based on those data parameters that get put into the forecast models," said Maj. Kyle Larson, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer.

According to Kevin Kodama, a Central Pacific Hurricane Center hurricane forecaster, the data collected from the Hurricane Hunters gives them a better idea of where the storm is headed.

"The data they provide really help us not only identify the center but also gives us a better idea of ... how far the significant winds extend outward from the center," Kodama said.

During a tropical storm or hurricane, 53rd WRS aircrews can fly through the eye of a storm four to six times. During each pass through the eye, crews release a dropsonde, a meteorological instrument that collects temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity and barometric pressure data as it descends to the ocean surface.

The aircraft also collects surface wind speed and flight-level data. This information is transmitted to the CPHC every 10 minutes to assist them with their forecasts and storm warnings.

In the initial stages of a storm, 53rd WRS crews will fly about every 12 hours, and as it approaches land they will start to fly every 6 hours, Larson said. As of Aug. 5, the squadron has flown six missions. They are projected to fly two additional missions before departing the islands later in the week.

Larson and his hurricane hunting counterparts are part of a unit that is the only Defense Department organization still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes, a mission that began in 1944.

While other C-130 units receive taskings from the geographic combatant commander they support or the Air Force Reserve Command for training missions, the 53rd WRS receives their taskings from the National Hurricane Center, a Department of Commerce agency.

Through an interagency agreement, tropical weather reconnaissance is governed by the National Hurricane Operations Plan, which requires the squadron to support 24-hour daily continuous operations with the ability to fly up to three storms simultaneously and with a response time of 16 hours.

This is the fourth time the squadron has deployed to Hawaii since August 2014. It's rare for Hawaii to be impacted by a hurricane as it's been hit by three hurricanes since 1952, the last of which was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

However, El Nino is contributing to an increase in storms in the central Pacific, according to Kodama. El Nino is a change in the trade winds across the Pacific Ocean, which can cause ocean temperatures to increase in the eastern Pacific off the coast of Peru, said 1st Lt. Leesa Froelich, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. This, and other factors, enhance the potential for tropical development in the Pacific and inhibits the potential for tropical development in the Atlantic, she added.

Last year the Hurricane Hunters flew Hurricanes Iselle, Julio and Ana, and this year they have deployed to gather data for Hurricanes Ela and Guillermo.