KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Maintaining constant awareness of what storm systems are doing is a concerted effort between the National Weather Service and the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron here, also known as the Hurricane Hunters.
Each year, to combat the persistent threat of winter storms, the 53rd WRS fly out over the icy waters of the East and West Coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, in order to collect barometric pressure, temperature and precipitation data.
Some winter storms can last for weeks and dump a lot of expenses on the American population that ranges from snow plowing, and destroyed crops and livestock to infrastructure damage. The official winter storm season begins in January and lasts through March.
"Winter storms, on average, kill more Americans each year than hurricanes," said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, the 53rd WRS chief meteorologist. "On average, an inch of snow removal … like New York City can cost $1 million. If the data we collect provides the National Weather Service with a more accurate prediction, cities can be better prepared lives and property can be saved."
To help gather data in the Pacific, the 53rd WRS forward deploys to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. However, this year the National Weather Service is experimenting with not tasking the Hurricane Hunters with these missions.
"Unlike the Gulf and East Coast storms, which only give us a few days' notice before they hit land, the Pacific storms begin to develop further away from land, which gives meteorologists more time to correct the storm models and give a more accurate prediction of the storms intensity," Talbot said. "They are trying to determine how much value is in having a plane fly into a storm's path versus how much can be saved if it determined that a flight is not necessary."
In addition to tracking storms in the Pacific, the 53rd WRS provides the National Weather Service with observations in areas of uncertainty on storm-tracking models. Areas of uncertainty occur due to the lack of weather data collection devices in the middle of the ocean.
"The data stream is low out over the ocean; there are not any data points to collect from like we have on land,” Talbot said. “You can use satellite data, but it will usually only give you so much information."