Military Provides Hurricane Tracking, Relief Support
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2004 "Hurricane Hunters" from the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron completed their final mission tracking Hurricane Alex last night, but are already on the trail of a tropical storm in the Lesser Antilles.
Meanwhile, members of the North Carolina National Guard's 690th Maintenance Battalion are providing emergency resupply and evacuation support along the state's Outer Banks, the area most hard-hit by Hurricane Alex. In addition to conducting aerial damage assessments over the state's east coast, the Guard is expected to fly North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley over the area today.
Six-person crews from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron began their first mission of the season July 31, at the request of the National Weather Service, according to Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Pritchett, a spokesman for the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. At the time, Alex was still a tropical depression east of the Bahamas.
Pritchett said the squadron flew its C-130H aircraft nearly around-the-clock out of Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., launching every six hours for missions that typically lasted eight to 12 hours. "When one plane came back, another one was going out," Pritchett said.
Lt. Col. John Talbot, a weather officer for the squadron, said the initial mission for Hurricane Alex was a "low-level invest," flown about 1,000 feet above the ocean's surface. At the height of the storm, Talbot said the crews encountered winds averaging 85 to 90 knots, with an isolated burst to 105 knots.
During the missions, the aircraft crisscross the hurricane in what Talbot called an "alpha pattern," using onboard instruments and small "dropsonde" canisters dropped by parachute to provide the most accurate measurements of the storm's location and intensity. The cannisters relay details about barometric pressure, wind speed and direction and other measurements to the aircraft during their descent until they hit the water, Pritchett explained.
The aircrews which consist of an aircraft commander and copilot, flight engineer, navigator, weather officer and dropsonde operator fly through rough turbulence and heavy rains during the missions, Talbot said. The heaviest turbulence occurs in the "eye wall," the circular area directly around the hurricane's eye, he explained.
After checking the data collected, the crews forward it directly to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Meanwhile, the "Hurricane Hunters" are already focused on their second weather system of the season, over the Lesser Antilles. Talbot said squadron members typically devote about 1,100 flying hours tracking weather systems between June and November. "We'll be busy now through September," he said.
With Hurricane Alex now northeast of Virginia Beach and heading out to sea, members of the North Carolina National Guard are on duty to provide support in its wake. According to Army Spc. Robert Jordan, a North Carolina Guard spokesman, 500 Guardsmen were on alert Aug. 3, a number that dropped to 250 this morning.
The small group activated from the 690th Maintenance Battalion is contributing two 5-ton trucks and one Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck fuel tanker to the effort. In addition, a utility helicopter is flying observation missions from Morehead City to Cape Hatteras to assess damage, Jordan said.
Hurricane Alex proved to be far less destructive than Hurricane Isabel, which whammed the East Coast in mid-September. That storm inflicted vast damage and affected military operations, forcing ships and submarines out to sea and aircraft to western bases beyond Isabel's reach.