Hurricane Hunters on a mission; 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squa - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Hurricane Hunters on a mission; 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

A fresh crew flew into Savannah from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi this afternoon with some much needed relief.

"We have told the National Hurricane Center that we will be prepared to fly up to three hurricanes simultaneously out of three locations," said Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa, a pilot for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. 

And the 53rd did just that; covering the Pacific as well with Hurricane Norma off the California coast, Hurricane Jose, and Hurricane Maria.  A busy season eerily as active as the Hurricane Katrina year.

"2005 was extreme, and in fact, we've had a lot of people this year say, 'Wow it's been a while since we've seen this many missions," said Ragusa.

One of the pilots, flying those missions for 16 years, still has complete respect and awe for the powerful storms.

"Something that just, when you have an open floor and you can see 80-foot waves below you churning like milk, it's just snow white, the foam like looking inside of your washing machine," said Lt Col Darryl Woods, Pilot, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.

He's describing flying into the eye, which is calm but just beyond the clear are killer storms.

"And you look out front, 20 miles ahead of you just a gray, dark gray-black swirl at, in Irma's case, at 185 miles an hour," said Woods.

The instrument that picks up all that data, a dropsonde, has to be fast as well sending back a series of data TWICE EVERY SECOND!

The flight meteorologist, Major Christopher Dyke, shows me how the almost paper-towel roll looking dropsonde with that sophisticated sensing system is ejected out of the plane.  And even though they hunt hurricanes, he admits, "For the weather officers, it's just as good to not find something as it is to find something."

This especially after such a destructive season with two and half months to go. "It's gut-wrenching to see things like we've seen this year," said Dyke.

Dyke also shared something simple yet impressive that flight meteorologists are trained to do when flying through a hurricane, "All our weather officers are trained to be able to look at the ocean and pick up on wind speed and direction. So, I've got equipment equipment on the plane that's collecting everything, and I can scroll back and look at that information, but it's the stuff I see looking out the window that I don't get to scroll back and look at.  So spend a lot of time looking out the window and confirming that equipment is working properly with what I'm seeing."

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