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Hurricane Hunters to fly Tropical Storm Erika

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters are operating out of Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, flying their state-of-the-art WC-130J Super Hercules into Tropical Storm Erika in support of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew four missions into the tropical storm from their deployed location at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but began moving their operation to Homestead Aug. 26, since St. Croix was in Erika's projected path. The Hurricane Hunters were staged at St. Croix to fly Hurricane Danny and began flying into the tropical storm the day after they completed the last mission.

NHC reported that Erika is moving west toward the Virgin Islands as of Aug. 27 and was to be north of Puerto Rico that night, and should be north of the Dominican Republic by Aug. 28.

Airmen of the 403rd Wing’s 53rd WRS are tasked by the NHC to provide data used to forecast the path of nature's most destructive storms.

The data the Hurricane Hunters provide to NHC is vital, potentially saving lives and property, said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, a 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," Talbot said. "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."

Data collected by the Hurricane Hunters increases the 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 said.

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