Marco, Laura prove Hurricane Hunters up to taskings

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters had a busy week flying missions into Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and from the Charleston International Airport, S.C. Aug. 20 through today.

The unit first started flying Laura, then Tropical Depression 14, out of Keesler Aug. 20, while simultaneously supporting reconnaissance efforts for Hurricane Genevieve in the Pacific Ocean.

As models projected a Mississippi Gulf Coast impact, 403rd Wing leadership deemed it necessary to evacuate nine of the 10 WC-130J Super Hercules of the 53rd WRS aircraft, as well as the 10 C-130J Super Hercules of the 815th Airlift Squadron, Flying Jennies.

“These are multi-million dollar airplanes and hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Moffatt, mission commander at Charleston for the 53rd WRS. “Anytime that there could be a major storm in the Gulf we look at getting our airplanes out of Keesler, and that’s what the commander did. He made the decision early which is much better than making it late.”

From Charleston, the six crews were able to continue to support missions into both storms.

Marco peaked as a Category 1 hurricane while in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall Monday night. By landfall, according to the information provided by the 53rd’s final mission into it, the system had all but disintegrated losing its Tropical Storm Status.

After Marco’s landfall, the unit continued missions into Hurricane Laura until it made landfall early today. In total, they flew seven missions from Charleston into Laura. Laura peaked as a strong Category 4, and made landfall as such near Cameron, Louisiana.

The Hurricane Hunters’ mission is to gather data in tropical systems where satellites cannot reach. They generally fly from 5,000 to 10,000 feet depending on the strength and organization of the storm. The data collection is achieved by dropsondes released from a chute on a specialized pallet. The dropsondes record temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and wind direction all the way to the water and the information is sent from the plane to the National Hurricane Center.

With the information the Hurricane Hunters gather, the NHC is able to put out more accurate information regarding the storm’s trajectory and expected strength which is vital to cities’ and states’ evacuation mandates and individuals’ hurricane preparations in general.

A number of different efforts make the carrying out of the missions possible, one being the three-person team, the Chief, Aerial Weather Reconnaissance Coordination, All Hurricanes, also known as CARCAH.

“CARCAH plays a key role in the aircraft weather reconnaissance mission, both in planning the flights and executing them,” said Warren Madden, CARCAH chief reconnaissance coordinator. “With only three people in the unit, we have been in constant 24 hour operations for a week now. When storms overlap, it is not uncommon for CARCAH to operate 24 hours a day for 10 or even 14 days without a break.”

CARCAH works with the forecasters to determine their requirements for flights, and saw between six and 10 missions requested per day, said Madden. It is CARCAH's job to work with the 53rd WRS and NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center Hurricane Hunters to set those missions up.

Another asset vital to mission success and safety are the maintenance Airmen from the 403rd and 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons as well as the 403rd Maintenance Squadron.

These Reservists work tirelessly behind the scenes, often in what can only be described as oppressive heat, to make sure both the aircraft and Airmen are taken care of.

“Maintenance has been great,” said Moffatt. “While on the road, they get to focus on just the airplanes.”

He also applauded the South Carolinian hosts, Atlantic and Signature Aviation for the accommodations and support that made carrying out the mission possible.

The eight WC-130J aircraft and one 815 AS C-130J that made the trip to Charleston are scheduled to return to Keesler Friday.