Hurricane Hunters

Aircrew members from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” taxi a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to its parking spot on the runway at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, after a winter storm flight Jan. 12, 2018. In addition to their hurricane taskings, Hurricane Hunters fly winter storm missions to gather weather data used by forecasters in generating models for systems that could affect the East, West or Gulf Coast of the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

This year the National Hurricane Center (NHC) will shrink the "cone of uncertainty" we see as hurricanes track through the Atlantic and the Gulf.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, is crucial when it comes to accurate hurricane forecasting.

When a hurricane forms, a crew of five fly a WC-130J aircraft fully loaded with weather gear into the eye of the storm.

The navigator locates the storm and guides the pilots.

The loadmaster releases dropsondes, which measure wind speed, pressure, humidity, and temperature.

All that data transmits to the weather officer for analysis.

"This is our computer where all of the data is streaming into. We can quality check it and make sure everything is accurate. We also have a chat window where we can directly communicate with the NHC, we can tell them what we're seeing and they can also give us feedback on what they're seeing on satellite," said Lt. Garrett Black.

Within minutes, the NHC receives data from the Hurricane Hunters so forecasters can let us know what to expect.

"Our data is averaged to typically reduce about 30 percent of the cone size, so if the forecaster did not have our data.The cone size would be about 30 percent larger from different studies that have been done. So that data is shrinking the cone roughly 30 percent and it gives the forecasters more confidence in their forecast and hopefully we can continue to build that lead time up to help people be prepared," Lt. Black said.

Accurate forecasts help save lives, property, and even money.

The smaller the forecasts, the more confident the forecast, which means fewer people need to evacuate.

"It's estimated that every mile of coastline that has to evacuate costs the United States $1 million, so reducing that cone 30 percent - that can sometimes be $100 million to $200 million that we're saving, so it's absolutely a big economic save for the United States and of course the most important part is life and property," Lt. Black said.

The Hurricane Hunters have 10 WC-130J aircraft.

They fly into any tropical cyclone that threatens the US or the Caribbean. They even fly into vicious winter Nor'easters.

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