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Hurricane Hunters fly data-gathering missions through Hurricane Matthew

1st Lt. J. Kelsie Carpenter, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aerial reconnaissance squadron officer, collects meteorological data during Hurricane Matthew Oct. 7, 2016. This data is sent to the National Hurricane Center to improve forecast track and intensity models. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo)

First Lt. J. Kelsie Carpenter, a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aerial reconnaissance squadron officer, collects meteorological data during Hurricane Matthew Oct. 7, 2016. This data is sent to the National Hurricane Center to improve forecast track and intensity models. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron has been conducting around-the-clock operations flying into Hurricane Matthew to collect critical weather data for the National Hurricane Center in Miami to improve the center’s computer models that forecast movement and intensity.

The squadron, part of the 403rd Wing and better known as the Hurricane Hunters, has been flying the storm since Sept. 26. They started flying the storm from the Henry Rohlsen Airport, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and moved operations to Keesler Air Force Base Oct. 5.

Hurricane Matthew formed off the coast of Africa in late September, became a hurricane Sept. 29 and rapidly intensified to Category 5. It hit Haiti Oct. 4, the Bahamas Oct. 6, and made its way up the Florida coastline Oct. 7 as a Category 2 storm.

First Lt. J. Kelsie Carpenter was the aerial reconnaissance weather officer on a flight that left at 4 a.m. Oct. 7 and returned at 2 p.m. In addition to the aerial reconnaissance weather officer, the crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator and a weather loadmaster. They work together to collect vital data on a storm’s intensity and direction that assists the NHC with their forecasts and storm warnings.

“We got a lot of good information and data today,” Carpenter said. “We learned it’s a strong storm; it’s slowly weakening, but its proximity to coast is why it’s important and why we are flying it around the clock.”

To gather this data, the aircrew flew through the eye of Hurricane Matthew six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During each pass through the eye, they released a dropsonde, which collects weather data on its descent to the ocean surface, measuring wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point and pressure. During storm flights, the aircrews transmit weather data via satellite communication every 10 minutes to the NHC.

On Oct. 7, the Hurricane Hunters found winds up to 120 mph at an elevation of 10,000 feet and 110 mph at the surface, said Carpenter.

“With this kind of storm, where it’s so close to the East Coast, any variation or diversion in track, whether that’s five or 10 miles, can mean a lot to those people who live in those impacted areas. The more accurate information we get the more they can fine tune the forecast and keep people safe,” Carpenter said.

The storm currently has taken more than 800 lives and left thousands without power.

Capt. Lucas Caulder, a 53rd WRS pilot who has flown through the eye of Matthew 27 times, stressed the importance of heeding storm warnings and evacuation orders. He said he is proud of the mission and service the Hurricane Hunters provide to the people in the community and the U.S.

“This way people can make an informed decision on whether to hunker down or get out of town,” he said.

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