Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Hunters fly nonstop into Ike

by Maj. Chad E. Gibson 403rd Wing Public Affairs
Lt. Col. Mark Carter looks at the sunset after flying nine hours on a Hurricane Ike mission on board a WC-130J Hercules Sept. 10 over the Gulf of Mexico. The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss, fly 24-hours-a-day, collecting data inside the heart of Hurricane Ike. The data collected by the Hurricane Hunters improve the National Hurricane Center forecast by 30 percent. Colonel Carter is a pilot with the 403rd Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Chad E. Gibson)

As residents of the Texas coastline flee to safe havens, the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters continue fly right into the center of Mother Nature's fury Sept. 12 from here.

Hurricane Ike is projected to make landfall Sept. 13 along the Texas coast near the city of Galveston as well as provide tropical storm force winds along the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines.

Keesler Air Force Base Hurricane Hunters have been flying nonstop for more than three weeks into hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

WC-130J Hercules aircraft, flown by the Airmen of the 403rd Wing, pass through the eye of Hurricane Ike every three hours, 24 hours a day, collecting lifesaving data that is sent directly to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

This data increases the accuracy of the National Hurricane Center's forecasts by 30 percent. With the warning bubble expanded by nearly a third, hundreds more communities would be forced to evacuate ahead of the storm. At a cost of $1 million per mile of coastline to evacuate, the increased accuracy saves tens of millions of dollars on every flight. In addition, more lives are saved because residents heed the more accurate National Hurricane Center's warnings.

Hurricane Ike has been slow to change in reaching the coast, leading National Hurricane Center forecasters to believe the storm will not significantly increase in strength. However, by the time Ike reaches landfall Sept. 13 it could near Category 3 wind speeds. The additional concern is the storm surge created by Ike, already covering some low-lying roadways along the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline with water.

Officials in the 403rd Wing said they will continue to track the hurricane until it makes landfall.