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Hurricane Hunters wrap up Hurricane Sam missions

Inside the eye of Hurricane Sam, members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron collect weather data. The data is sent to the National Hurricane Center, which is used to improve the forecast models and help people prepare. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Joyce Hirai)

Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, operating in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, collect weather data from inside the eye of Hurricane Sam onboard a WC-130J Super Hercules. The data is sent to the National Hurricane Center, which is used to improve the forecast models and help people prepare for the storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Joyce Hirai)

Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron takeoff for Hurricane Sam to gather weather data for the National Hurricane Center, Sept. 28, 2021. The weather data is collected and sent to the NHC in order to ensure more accurate and up-to-date forecasts and models of the storms.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Jessica L. Kendziorek)

Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron prepare for take-off in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, to gather weather data from Hurricane Sam for the National Hurricane Center, Sept. 28, 2021. The weather data is collected and sent to the NHC to ensure more accurate, up-to-date forecasts and models of the storms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jessica L. Kendziorek)

ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS --

The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters, from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, completed their final flight into Hurricane Sam, Oct. 2, which still churns in the Atlantic, but due to its location and the discontinuation of the tropical storm warnings, has been downgraded from a category four storm.

The squadron began flying the storm after moving to their forward operating location in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, where their first flight into Hurricane Sam was as a category three before it strengthened back into a category four storm.

“The reasons we used our forward operating location at St. Croix, was first, because with the location of the storm, St. Croix was our safest and best option for flying Hurricane Sam,” said Lt. Col. Phillip Dobson, 53rd WRS navigator and mission commander for Hurricane Sam operations. “And the second reason is that we already have our equipment and a working relationship with the airfield in place to keep operations going 24 hours a day.”

The 53rd WRS is assigned to the 403rd Wing and is the only unit of its kind in the Defense Department. In coordination with the National Hurricane Center and the Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes, the unit flies missions into tropical systems to collect atmospheric data used by forecasters to create more accurate models.

To accomplish their mission, the squadron has 10 WC-130J Super Hercules, which contain two specially modified weather stations inside the aircraft for the weather missions, the aerial reconnaissance weather officer (ARWO) station and the dropsonde operator station and tube. The information collected during the flights is sent to these two stations, which is then sent back to the NHC via satellite, where they take the data and put it into their models for more accurate, up-to-date forecasts.

After a total of 10 storm missions, the 53rd WRS wrapped up their last flight and the deployed aircraft made their way back home.

“There are challenges that come up with each deployment and every (deployment) is different, just like every storm is different,” Dobson said. “We will debrief, review and improve, but at the end of the day, we are going to do what must be done to complete our mission and get the data to the NHC so they can get the forecast models out to people to be prepared.”