Hurricane Hunters fly Atmospheric Rivers
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, commonly known as the Hurricane Hunters, are the cornerstone for data gathering efforts within storm environments. When they’re not flying into hurricanes they are providing aerial weather reconnaissance for atmospheric rivers over the Pacific Ocean.
“There is no off season for us, after the Hurricane season is done we roll into the Winter Storm season and part of that is providing support for atmospheric rivers off the West Coast,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer. “ARs are flowing columns of water vapor that produce vast amounts of precipitation when they make landfall. The heavy amounts of precipitation can turn into extreme rainfall and snow, which then can cause flooding and mudslides.”
The Hurricane Hunters are slated to perform “AR recon” from January through March. Scientists led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego, working in partnership with the 53rd WRS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, and Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, who will be on standby to fly through these ARs over the Pacific to gather data to improve forecasts. Approximately twelve storms will be flown during that period and deploying up to three planes per storm.
“We’re trying to improve the forecast of atmospheric rivers on the West Coast, because it matters to the people who manage water and deal with the hazards of flood and debris flows,” said F. Martin Ralph, principal investigator for the AR Recon program and director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps. “We’re all working together to try and figure out how to make the forecast better and AR recon’s data gathering is a vital part of that.”
There are two WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the 403rd Wing which have staged at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., then moved to Portland, Ore., and U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii. One Gulfstream IV from NOAA’s Air Operations Center is also staged out of Portland.
“In many cases ARs are great for the state of California, because they bring 90 percent of the state’s annual precipitation,” said Ralph. “But when the ground is already saturated and more water is added, it can cause hazards, so knowing what is coming helps people to prepare.”