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When a storm threatens, Hurricane Hunters prepare for take-off

Staff Sgt. Jesse Jordan, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, conducts an inspection of the WC-130J. Jordan is responsible for making sure that the equipment and personnel are loaded accurately to ensure the safety of the aircraft and the crew. (U.S. Air Force photo//Master Sgt. Jessica Kendziorek)

When it comes to tracking the tropics, the National Hurricane Center in Miami keeps its eye on the storm to provide the best possible forecast. A large part of that effort starts in the air. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or the Hurricane Hunters, at Keesler Air Force Base, fly hundreds of miles into the eye of the storm in a WC-130, spending an average of 11 hours in the sky on a single mission.

"We're just painting a big picture of the storm, essentially, and sending that back to the hurricane center," said pilot Lt. Will Simmons. "They're the ones that are really kind of piecing the puzzle together and narrowing down the forecast."

Dropsondes are released more than 100 miles away from the center of the storm.

Lt. Simmons said, "It's a big part of our mission. Essentially it's a tube of instruments that collects things like temperature, wind speed. Pressure is one of the biggest things we're looking for and with that information we can send that back to the National Hurricane Center."

Tropical forecasting is difficult, but without the Hurricane Hunters' data, the forecasting would be far less accurate.

Said Simmons, "All that data that we collect inside the eye of the storm, as well as around the outside of the storm, the outer periphery, they take that, ingest it into the computer models. It really helps narrow down the forecast track. Being right there inside a hurricane, inside the eye of the storm and flying around the hurricane, that's going to give you the best data that a satellite, just because of the distance and resolution, it's just not going to give you the best data."

According to their website, Hurricane Hunters are the only Department of Defense organization still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes. They've been at it since 1944.

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