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Hurricane forecasters to tour Caribbean in a WC-130

Meteorological DisastersTropical WeatherHurricanes and Tropical StormsMexicoNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center are preparing to tour a bunch of exotic destinations around the Caribbean later this month.

It might sound like fun, but they actually have an important mission: urge residents to prepare for the upcoming storm season, which starts June 1.

“Lives and property are saved through awareness and preparedness,” Bill Read, director of the hurricane center, said.

The forecasters will ride in an Air Force Reserve WC-130J  hurricane hunter aircraft, which is really the “star” of the tour, said Dennis Feltgen, hurricane center spokesman.

The reason: Thousands of people flock to the airport to see the plane, walk through it and in the process learn about the dangers of tropical systems.

Last year’s Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour drew 22,000 people, including a record 17,000 in Puerto Rico alone.

By the way, another type of hurricane hunter aircraft, a P-3 Orion, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will visit Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport on May 6 as part of the U.S. version of the hurricane awareness tour.

For the forecasters going on the Caribbean tour, including Read, senior hurricane specialist Lixion Avila and meteorologist Scott Stripling, flying in a four-engine, turbine-powered WC-130 isn’t all that comfortable.

“It’s a real noisy aircraft,” said Feltgen, who also goes on the tour to take photos and coordinate the public events. “You wear earplugs from the time they turn on engines until they shut them down.

“It’s a military aircraft; it’s not designed for comfort,” he added.

The same plane will fly into hurricanes and tropical storms during the season to provide the hurricane center with critical meteorological information.

It’s one of 10 WC-130s operated by the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Keesler Air Force Base in southern Mississippi. During the 2010 hurricane season, that squadron flew 100 missions over the Atlantic.

“The squadron is the only remaining military unit in the world which routinely flies into tropical cyclones to aid in the United States Hurricane Warning Program,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Talbot, the squadron’s chief weather officer.

The stops on this year’s Caribbean tour include:

– March 21: San Jose del Cabo, Mexico;

– March 22: Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico;

– March 23: Grand Cayman Island;

– March 24: Curacao, Netherlands Antilles;

– March 25: St. Lucia;

– March 26: Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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