The Air Force Reserve is home to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS), more commonly known as the Hurricane Hunters. This squadron is the only Department of Defense organization that still flies into tropical storms and hurricanes. It has been operating these missions since 1944. The Lockheed-Martin WC 130J crew, part of the 403rd Wing, is based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.
As you can imagine, these missions are not for the faint hearted. They are dangerous, yet extremely valuable. During flight, weather data is collected and sent directly to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Data collected by the Hurricane Hunters is considered up to 30% more accurate, according to the National Hurricane Center. Information collected and implemented by the Hurricane Hunters has been known to save lives; when people see the forecast and know it is from a reputable source, they heed warnings and evacuate effectively.
When threatening weather comes creeping in, the NHC issues orders for the Hurricane Hunters to prepare for flight. Assigned crew members are given a 12 hour resting period before the flight, and then it’s serious flying. The 53rd WRS has the ability to fly up to 3 storms at a time, which is valuable since the AOR extends from the Mid-Atlantic to the International Dateline in the Pacific.
Depending on the storm, the unit at task may fly above the ocean surface to monitor waves, fly outside the winds to determine their rotation, or fly directly into the center of the storm to get an overall assessment of the storm.