Weathering storms: Officer's love of weather mission saves lives, property

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Maj. Christopher Dyke has a life-long love of weather, especially hurricanes. The reservist’s interest in these severe storms began as a child growing up on the Gulf Coast in Pensacola, Florida. This led to him earning a degree in meteorology, and then ultimately in his becoming an aerial reconnaissance weather officer in the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the “Hurricane Hunters.”

Dyke, who’s flown 337 sorties and has more than 1,200 flight hours, said the 53rd WRS is a good match for his love of weather, because it’s rewarding to contribute information that improves forecasts and storm warnings, which helps to ensure public safety.

“As an ARWO, we act as a mission director for the weather reconnaissance missions,” said Dyke, who is one of 22 ARWOs in the Air Force. “We work with the National Hurricane Center to gather the data they need, and we work with the aircrew to match our capabilities to those requirements.”

The squadron conducts primarily two types of tropical cyclone missions: low-level invests and fix missions. A low-level invest mission is flown at 500 to 1,500 feet to determine if there is a closed circulation. Once a closed circulation exists, they fly at higher altitudes, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet. Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times per mission to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During these missions, the aircrews transmit the weather data by satellite to the NHC.

Before he became part of the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, Dyke served as a meteorologist in the Air Force from 2005 to 2008. His first assignment was at Keesler. He reported to the Weather Officer Course here, with his first month being one many on the Gulf Coast will never forget -- Hurricane Katrina.

“It was a nightmare,” he said. “You could hear howling in Wolfe Hall where we were sheltered, and some of the stairwells started taking on water. We spent a week in the shelter, and I was responsible for a security detail after the storm.”

He eventually left the base, reporting to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where he completed his weather training and began his first permanent duty assignment.

Dyke was assigned to the 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw AFB, which provides weather information to all branches of the U.S. military and Coalition partners deployed to the United States Central Command area of responsibility, which encompasses 25 countries spanning 6.43 million square miles on two continents.

He joined the Air Force Reserve in 2008 and became an Air Reserve Technician, a full-time federal service employee matched to a military position in the 53rd WRS. In 2010, he took time away from the ART program to attend graduate school.  He still served in the 403rd Wing, but as traditional reservist. After he earned his master of business administration, he worked at a bedding manufacturing company providing business intelligence, performance analytics, and process improvement until he returned to the ART program in 2017.  

While serving in a TR status, he was the 5th Operational Weather Flight commander from August 2015 to August 2017. The 5th OWF, which is assigned to the Air Force Reserve's 403rd Wing here but is located at Shaw AFB, supports the 28th Operational Weather Squadron.

As the commander, he led the initiative to change the way the squadron trained and supported the combatant commands, Dyke said.

The unit primarily provided home station support, said Dyke, but they went from having two deployable personnel to developing a model that vastly increased that capability.

At the end of his command tour, he returned to the ART program to continue to help drive a positive change in the mission and the career field, he said.

“The camaraderie in the military is a unique benefit,” said Dyke. “As a TR, I would be closer to the people I drilled with two days a month than I was with many of my coworkers in the private sector.”

When Dyke isn’t flying, he is also the Air Force Reserve Command interim weather career field manager. He manages the weather specialists’ career paths, and is also responsible for organizing, training and equipping AFRC weather units.

Because Dyke is the career field manager and is also the 403rd Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation officer for ARWOs, the highest position to obtain as an evaluator ARWO, he adds a lot of capability to the unit, said Lt. Col. Kaitlyn Woods, 53rd WRS chief meteorologist.

 “He is amazing,” she said. “He’s helped us implement a lot of initiatives that have greatly enhanced the mission here.”

Whether he is working issues to improve the unit or flying into the world’s most powerful storms to gather life-saving data, Dyke has a passion for his profession.

 “I’m not the kind of person who can sit in front of a computer all day, every day; so this provides me the opportunity to get out, be hands-on, and at the same time doing a job dealing with a topic I love,” said Dyke.