Hurricane hunters will fly into Hurricane Felicia

Ty Piercefield
Ty Piercefield
Lt. Col. Christa Hornbaker
Lt. Col. Christa Hornbaker

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE (KHNL) - Hawaii now has another tool to monitor Hurricane Felicia and help predict where it will go.

The computer models that forecast the hurricane's track are only as good as the data that is put in. But soon we'll know exactly what is going on inside this strong storm and that will help in determining where Felicia will hit.

They aren't flashy, but workhorses of the Air Force specially designed C-130s, have a starring role come hurricane season.

"Usually we'll cross the storm 2-3 times," said Ty Piercefield, an Air Force Co-Pilot for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.

The planes are built to take a battering and they do as they criss cross the eyewall of a storm. Battling not only the strong winds but severe weather found at the heart of a hurricane.

"It can be very violent, with hail in the eye wall. The last 30-40 miles of storm is very violent. It's challenging that it very vibrating so much that you can't see the instruments and your trying to fly a stable plane"" added Piercefield.

Why go where few would want to fly? Satellites give us great images but stormy weather stops us from getting a complete picture of the hurricane.

"We go out and get that information the satellites can't see from the core of the storm," said Lt. Col. Christa Hornbaker, Air Force Meteorologist.

Not only are there sensors around the plane, the crew of six also release dropsondes. Which record pressure, temperature and humidity on their free fall through the storm. Critical data when a hurricane is headed toward land.

"We take that data and instantaneous give them to the hurricane center for a better forecast," said Hornbaker.

Even if Felicia weakens into a tropical storm, the planes will still fly into it to collect that important data. And the pilots say it can still be just as rough as flying into a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Its seems like a risky mission but to the crews that fly these planes, it is also a rewarding one every hurricane season.

"I feel like I am going out and doing a mission that can save lives," said Piercefield.

This challenge job of flying into storms as hurricane hunters, is done by Air Force Reservists.

They will make their first flight into Felicia early Saturday morning.