Three Air Force Reserve “hurricane hunter” WC-130J aircraft took off Monday from Mississippi bound for Hawaii to provide weather support for Hurricanes Erick and Flossie.
Erick had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph as of 11 a.m. this morning and was 840 miles east-southeast of Hilo, while Flossie, 1,045 miles southwest of Baja California, clocked in with 75 mph winds.
The three WC-130J aircraft, carrying specialized equipment for weather reconnaissance, and a C-130J Super Hercules with extra cargo for the mission, were dispatched to track and monitor the storms, the Air Force said in a release.
Three weather crews assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron are expected to start flying missions Wednesday.
After arriving in Hawaii, the aircraft will begin flying “fix” missions to collect weather data including temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity and surface pressure, officials said.
“Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm,” the Air Force said.
During each pass through the eye, they release dropsondes, which collect weather data all the way to the ocean surface. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron provides the data to the National Hurricane Center to assist in forecasts.
An average weather reconnaissance mission lasts 11 hours and covers almost 3,500 miles with a minimal crew of five including a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, aerial reconnaissance weather officer and weather reconnaissance loadmaster, according to the Air Force.
The 53rd, assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, is the only Defense Department unit that conducts aerial reconnaissance missions during the hurricane season June 1 through Nov. 30.
The unit deployed to Hawaii three times in 2018 to fly Hurricanes Hector, Lane and Olivia.