USAF Hurricane Hunters Fly Into Ian 14 Times

US Air Force Reserve “Hurricane Hunters” conducted 14 flight missions into Hurricane Ian, collecting weather data during the Atlantic storm.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base flew a mission from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands on September 25. 

Before that, the squadron conducted 12 missions out of Curacao during Hurricane Fiona from September 15 to 21.

“The Atlantic Ocean is a data sparse environment due to the lack of radar and weather balloons, so Hurricane Hunters crews usually fly through the eye of a storm at about 10,000 feet four to six times to collect real time information in the storm,” Captain Garret Black said.

A WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flies in the eye of Hurricane Ian September 27, 2022. Photo: Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman/US Air Force

Real-Time Information

During their flights through the eye of the storm, weather reconnaissance crews release a tube-like meteorological instrument called a dropsonde that collects “temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and barometric pressure data as it descends to the ocean surface.”

Black said that data collected throughout the 14 missions was transmitted continuously to support National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasters.

“The NHC has many different resources available to them for use in their forecasts. However, there are still many missing pieces that we’re able to provide about what is happening real time in the storm environment such as wind speed, surface winds and central pressure,” the captain said.

“On one of the final passes we went through, that data was very critical to forecasters to see that the storm was intensifying… it gave those forecasters the ability to upgrade the hurricane and to understand how much it was strengthening.” 

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On September 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm and crossed the state, downgrading to a tropical storm. Ian re-strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane as it moved toward the coastline of South Carolina.