SAN ANTONIO – Hurricane Delta is one of a record number of named storms to make landfall in the United States this year. An integral part of forecasting tropical weather is flying into the storms. Hurricane Hunters do just that, and this year has kept them extremely busy.
“2020 has been hectic,” said First Lt. Ryan Smithies, a pilot for the famed 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, otherwise known as the Hurricane Hunters
“The tempo -- just constant,” remarked Smithies of how busy the year has been. “Multiple storms at one time, going to different locations and flying storms in the Gulf, in the Atlantic, and Pacific simultaneously.”
This time, the Hurricane Hunters were flying their missions into Hurricane Delta from San Antonio.
“Had we stayed back in Biloxi, it’s possible that the weather wouldn’t have permitted us to continue running 24-hour storm operations," Smithies said.
Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the home base of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, a component of the 403rd Wing. This year, however, they have had to relocate several times due to the storms coming too close to keep operations running smoothly.
Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, specifically Kelly Field, has proved to be a good backup plan. It has been used this year for hurricanes Sally, Beta, and now Delta.
“The main mission is to get to the center of the storm," Smithies said.
While there, and as they crisscross the quadrants of the storm, they measure various data from inside their C-130 aircraft. Important variables such as wind speed and pressure are measured using instruments called dropsondes.
Smithies described the process as taking an “X-ray of the storm”.
“Out over the water, there’s nothing that can accurately measure in real time," Smithies said.
As for Hurricane Delta, Smithies said the storm always looked a bit ragged.
“Delta’s been a little bit tricky. It hasn’t been quite as organized, in a textbook case, the entire time," said Smithies.
One 2020 storm did stick out, though.
“This season, I think Laura, for me personally, was the most memorable. Just an incredible storm as far as intensity,” Smithies said.
The season is not yet over, which means more missions may be ahead.