MAY 25, 2022 – It’s not every day that a unit gets invited to participate in an event that informs the President of the United States about interagency efforts to prepare for and respond to hurricanes.
That day turned out to be May 18 for one 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron WC-130J Super Hercules aircrew and 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron members, assigned to the 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Upon the invitation of Ken Graham, the National Hurricane Center director, the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters joined up with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to showcase their missions, aircraft and equipment as part of the presidential briefing at a hangar at Joint Base Andrews.
A WC-130J Super Hercules, a NOAA WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV-SP and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and FEMA trucks were on display as part of a brief that the Department of Commerce, NOAA, NHC, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development and other top officials provide to the president annually in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30. This is the first year that the static displays were part of the briefing, according to Graham.
“It really is amazing what you all do to protect us,” said President Joe Biden, after touring the static displays, and in a briefing with national emergency management leaders. “I met with some of these brave women and men who perform these high-risk missions, and they are trying to help not only deal with, but predict the hurricanes, the severity of them, where they are going to land, and flying right into the heart of them.”
The 53rd WRS is the only Department of Defense unit that annually flies weather reconnaissance missions into severe tropical weather to gather atmospheric data within the storms that is sent to the National Hurricane Center to improve their forecasts and storm warnings. Outside of hurricane season, they fly into winter storms on the East Coast and atmospheric rivers, massive bands of moisture that cause huge amounts of rainfall and flooding, on the West Coast to improve forecasts.
NOAA also flies into storms to gather weather data which is input into the forecasts and helps hurricane researchers better understand storm processes.
Lt. Col. Jeremy DeHart, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer who briefed the president alongside Lt. Col. Erik Olson, the squadron director of operations, said it was a surreal experience.
“Reflecting back, to where I was a few years ago, I never imagined that I would be flying into hurricanes,” he said. “And then, on top of that, telling the President of the United States about it.”
DeHart said Biden asked him where he was from. DeHart is originally from New Jersey and Biden from nearby Delaware, and they talked about the rivalry between the two states. He was also asked about his most memorable storm, which was the landfall of Hurricane Michael in 2018; the first Category 5 hurricane to make U.S. landfall since Andrew in 1992. DeHart then went on to tell him about his experiences on the mission, and his role with the 53rd WRS.
“I explained the importance of what we do, why we do it, and how we send the data off the plane to the National Hurricane Center, and within 10 seconds of us sending it to them, they are feeding it into their forecasts and models. He (Biden) mentioned that he was readily waiting for that data too.”
U.S. Navy Captain (Dr.) Beth Sanabia, an oceanography professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, also attended the event with the 53rd WRS. She leads a team of Naval Academy midshipmen in TROPIC, the Training and Research in Oceanic and Atmospheric Processes in Tropical Cyclones Program, during the months of July and August. TROPIC teams up with the Hurricane Hunters to accompany them into all manner of tropical disturbances in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Sanabia said. They drop buoys to measure oceanic conditions and gather data that also contribute to forecast models.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to attend this event,” she said. “We are grateful to highlight the contributions of the 53rd to cutting-edge oceanographic data collection into hurricanes.”
Sanabia, along with members from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of Miami, are supported by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation. These organizations work closely with the 53rd WRS during hurricane season and in support of atmospheric river missions to improve these forecasts and enhance research.
The official NOAA hurricane forecast for this year’s hurricane season has yet to be released, but forecasters from the University of Colorado have projected an above-average season.
“The job is not going to slow up any time soon,” Biden said. “We are prepared for upcoming season. We know hurricanes are coming our way; they grow more extreme each season … so, pay attention to hurricane warnings, and … follow the guidance of local authorities. We are going to do everything to protect you.”
The 53rd WRS plays a role in those government efforts to protect Americans, and DeHart echoed the same sentiment.
“We do what we do so that people take the forecasts and the warnings put out by the NHC for people to stay safe,” he said. “We do our job to provide the data that improves the forecasts, advisories and warnings, so everybody please take those warnings seriously, and if you are in an evacuation area do what your emergency managers recommend. This is why we are here, and why we do what we do.”
By Lt. Col. Marnee A. C. Losurdo
403rd Wing Public Affairs