SAN ANTONIO – Members of the United States Air Force Hurricane Hunter task force and the planes they fly into hurricanes visited San Antonio on Monday.
It was just last year that the WC-130J Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into one of the strongest storms on record.
"My first reaction was that I was interested if my instruments were actually working properly,” said Major Douglas Gautreau, a meteorologist and member of the Hurricane Hunter task force for the United States Air Force.
Using an instrument called a dropsonde, Gautreau was able to measure the record-setting 200 mph winds inside Hurricane Patricia. The storm ravaged the west coast of Mexico.
"When we got the loadmasters, dropsonde data back and it verified with my data, I knew that we were in for something special,” Gautreau said.
Gautreau, along with other crew members and the WC-130J aircraft, made a visit to San Antonio on Monday. NOAA’s Gulfstream-IV, an aircraft that also gathers data during tropical weather, was on display, too. The visit was part of the annual Hurricane Awareness Tour, put together by NOAA. It was the first time the tour has stopped in San Antonio.
The aircraft are vital parts of forecasting tropical weather.
"There’s almost a plane flying in continuously when we get a hurricane that’s threatening the United States,” said Daniel Brown, senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center.
The flights, which can be very bumpy, are done with an abundance of safety.
"We'll go directly, penetrate through the eye wall, in the eye and release our instruments and still have to exit the eye wall,” Gautreau said.
The National Hurricane Center relies heavily on the data retrieved from the Hurricane Hunter aircraft. This hurricane season has the potential to be more active than last year.
"I really caution people to put much faith in that seasonal forecast, because it only takes one hurricane to hit your community for it to be a bad year,” Brown said.
San Antonio, despite being well inland, is not immune to receiving tropical weather. It is one of the reasons the tour picked San Antonio as a stop this year.
"You can still get the effects of a hurricane. You can still get strong winds, and especially that inland flooding here in San Antonio,” Brown said.
Hurricane season begins June 1.