Building a weather-ready nation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Diana Cossaboom
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Teams from the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center participated in a week-long Hurricane Awareness Tour (HAT) at five locations along the East Coast, May 6-10.

The purpose of the HAT is to help create a weather-ready nation by raising awareness for the upcoming hurricane season occurring June 1 – Nov. 30, with an emphasis this year on raising awareness about inland flooding.

“When people think about hurricanes, they think about the wind,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa, 53rd WRS chief pilot. “As it turns out, the major threat for somebody is going to be inland flooding. People think they are safe, but as you look at lives lost from hurricanes, it’s from inland flooding. We want to get that warning out to folks and let them know that just because they don’t live on the cost and won’t see debris flying around, doesn’t mean they are safe.”

Inland flooding accounts for 83 percent of the fatalities during a tropical storm system, of which more than half of the fatalities are within automobiles, stated Ken Graham, National Hurricane Center director.

“It’s important to remember hurricanes don’t just impact the coast, storm surge and rain are also a threat inland,” said Graham. “The highest storm surge value for Hurricane Florence was 100 miles inland. Just because you don’t live on the coast doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare for hurricane season.”

The HAT gave an opportunity for the media and public to tour aircraft that fly into hurricanes, the “Hurricane Hunter” WC-130J and the NOAA WP-3D Orion aircraft, as well as learn about their mission and how to prepare for potential disasters.

“Satellites are really good at telling us what’s at the top of a hurricane,” said Ragusa. “Nobody cares what’s at the top of a hurricane, they want to know what’s going on where the homes and where the people are. In order to do that, [we] need to get in there as low as safety will allow so that we can provide that data required for the National Hurricane Center to really figure out what that storm is doing.”

The tour, taking place in conjunction with National Hurricane Preparedness Week, stopped at Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.

“The research and the surveys show that the public’s perception of their risk is based on their past experience,” said Graham. “Events like this are so critical to remind of those risks.”  

Other government and private organizations partook in the event including the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

“This week is about coming together,” said Graham. “It’s one thing to prepare by reading something in a book, it’s another thing to come here. Events like this are what’s going to help us become a weather-ready nation.”

More than 7,000 people participated in the events, gaining knowledge of safety and awareness in preparation for the coming hurricane season.

“An important thing I like to get out to folks is that I’m going to ask my flight crew to do something that no other flight crews around the world are even allowed to do,” said Ragusa. “We are happy to do it and we are here to do it for you, please don’t make us do it in vain. When those warnings come out, please pay attention. In 2018, the 53rd WRS flew a total of 43 missions over the Atlantic basin, and the NOAA WP-3D Orion flew a total of 10 missions. The missions flown provide real-time data on what is going on with the tropical systems and can decrease the forecast cone by 20 percent.

“Every storm is different,” said Graham. “Just because it didn’t happen last time doesn’t mean it won’t happen next time. It is so critical to prepare for what could happen, not what’s happened in the past.”