'We know it's dangerous': Fly into Florence's eye with USAF Hurricane Hunters

ByJonah Kaplan KABC logo
Thursday, September 13, 2018

The United States Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron conducted another mission over the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday, and our sister station ABC11 was given special access for the flight.

The squadron, nicknamed "Hurricane Hunters," is flying daily into the eye of Hurricane Florence, the Category 2 storm destined to make landfall sometime within the next day or so.

Based in Biloxi, Mississippi, three WC-130J aircraft arrived in the region on Sunday at the request of the National Hurricane Center.

"We're just trying to make it so that there's a more accurate prediction," Maj. Tobi Baker told ABC11. "With our data a lot of times it will increase the accuracy between 35% to 45% percent. If we can decrease it by that much, you're saving property, and strategically putting resources where they need to be."

Over the course of the nearly 9-hour flight, Baker's team of weather officers drop dozens of small canisters, called Dropsondes, which parachute through the eye and contain several instruments to measure data that a satellite cannot: wind speed, wind direction, intensity, pressure, and temperature, among other things.

"Every ten minutes is like a text message sent to the National Hurricane Center," Maj. Baker said. "So they're collecting information real time."

At the other end of the aircraft, a separate crew from the U.S. Navy dropped larger instruments that fall directly to the ocean to gauge the water temperature.

"The reason we do this is so that we can narrow that cone - the cone of confusion," Lt. Col. Jerry Rutland, the flight's pilot, said in reference to the range of projected paths of the hurricane. "Sometimes a lot of people in a mass evacuation, some people die while they're evacuating. So if we can keep fewer people evacuating and saving communities' money, that's a win-win."