At News 5 we keep you updated in hurricane season with all the tracks and coordinates of tropical storms. Every once in a while I get to fly with the hurricane hunters and that's a treat. In my most recent flight into Tropical Storm Nate not only did I get to see the data collection process in action and gain a new perspective on Nate but I found out that some of the crew have strong ties to Mobile.
Each flight starts with a crew briefing which includes, pilots, navigators, meteorologists and dropsonde operators of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The fleet of C130s at Keesler Air Force Base is kept at ready for tropical storms and hurricanes and sometimes for non-weather missions. It's a reliable aircraft that does well in wind and heavy tropical rain. The hurricane hunters have used it for years. On the outside the C130 looks like any other airplane but on the inside it's a little bit different.
There's a station used to setup and release weather instruments called dropsondes, into the storm. As the instruments fall to the ocean they send back temperature, pressure, humidity and wind. Those help give a 3d view of the structure of a storm and they are released at key spots near in and around the eye. The aircraft itself also has weather sensors that give continuous readings. Then there's a setup for the aerial reconnaissance weather officer, also known as the meteorologist.
Captain Eileen Bundy, USAF Reserve: "We find the exact center of circulation within the storm itself. We go and measure pressure, winds, temperature, and we fly around to get the big picture for people at the National Hurricane Center who go and make the decisions on forecast tracks."
Oh, did I mention Captain Bundy is a Mobilian and a University of South Alabama meteorology graduate? Full disclosure, I teach part-time at USA and she was one of my students many years ago and so was Captain Dyke! Captain Christopher Dyke is a Pensacola native. He says, "I love this job. I love being able to provide information for people on the Gulf Coast, as well as on the east coast. People think it's dangerous; "Oh man I can't believe you guys do that." While there is some risk involved with it, it would be ignorant to say there isn't, it's well-managed. We've been doing this since 1944 so we have a lot of experience behind how we go about, procedure-wise, entering the storm."
Fortunately we find that Nate had strengthened some but with no big surprises.
Captain Eileen Bundy, USAF Reserve: "Each storm has its own personality and as tropical storms go, this is a typical one."
We did have moderate turbulence going in and out of Tropical Storm Nate but except for takeoff and landing I didn't need my seatbelt.
As a team, the hurricane hunters routinely perform these missions, day and night, in the Gulf, Caribbean, and Atlantic. A typical flight is 10 to 12 hours, and most of it is in the dull grayness of clouds and rain.
Alan Sealls, News 5
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