ATLANTA (NewsNation Now) — As Tropical Storm Elsa makes its way through the southeast, an elite unit in the U.S. Air Force Reserve helps forecasters track and predict the flow of the storm.
“We are tasked with flying both tropical and winter storms year-round around the United States and surrounding waters,” said Capt. Ryan Smithies, a pilot with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.
The squadron is also known as “hurricane hunters.” The crew’s mission is to fly into dangerous storms and provide forecasters with the data they need to accurately predict severe weather.
“Near the areas where we expect maximum winds at the surface and in the center of the storm, what we call the eye if it’s a well-developed hurricane, those locations, we will be dropping instruments called dropsondes,” Smithies said. “It collects more meteorological information like temperature, wind, speed, pressure, humidity, all that type of stuff. as it falls to the surface.”
Smithies says the crew has no formal training.
“Really the best way to train how to fly into these storm systems is to actually fly into them,” Smithies said.
He says the mission can be draining.
“We’re flying, operating 24 hours a day, you know, for days on end as long as these systems require,” Smithies said. “It can be challenging, taxing, physically exhausting.”
He also says the storms are unpredictable.
“We may end up getting a break for a couple of weeks or a month or so before the next one comes around,” Smithies said. “Tropical storms tend to be more hostile flying conditions than well-developed hurricanes just by nature of how disorganized the systems are. So in this case, Elsa, for me was one of the bumpier flights that I’ve had in the last year or two, just because it was a mess.”
While Elsa has weakened, the hurricane hunters are on alert in case it regains strength.
“We will have a crew ready to go for an additional reconnaissance flight if it’s deemed necessary,” said Smithies.