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Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters Fly Atlantic Winter Storm

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Monday, Hurricane Hunters flew off toward an impending winter storm expected to dump snow on the northeast United States and eastern seaboard.

Better known for their mission of pinpointing tropical storms and hurricanes, the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron also flies winter storms in support of the National Weather Service from December 1-April 30.

Information collected by the Hurricane Hunters is checked onboard the aircraft and then relayed by satellite to the NOAA Weather Service supercomputer which incorporates it into the agency's numerical prediction models. This information helps "fill-in-the-blanks" or bolster the data in computer climate models that forecast storms and precipitation for the entire U.S.

"The goal is to make a good forecast so that cities can be prepared with snow plows, and other snow removal and mitigation equipment to diminish the impact of a winter storm on a city," said Lt. Col. Roy Deatherage, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer for almost 20 years. "If they are better prepared, like we've seen with several cities already this year, they can recover more quickly. That can be crucial for residents living in harm's way. These forecasts provide people in the path of the storms with warnings that can save lives."

"On average, the data we provide along with the NOAA aircraft lead to a 10-20% reduction in error in the targeted forecasts," the colonel explained. "As a result, numerical forecast guidance issued 48 hours prior to the events become as accurate as 36-hour lead time forecasts."

Winter missions require crews to fly at higher altitudes than they normally fly in tropical weather systems, above 30,000 feet. The squadron's new Hercules WC-130J is an improvement over the previous WC-130H in that it can fly much higher, allowing for collection of more data and thereby improving the forecast models even more than in the past.