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Air Force's WC-130 Hercules crews hunt Atlantic coast hurricanes

5/11/2007 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNEWS)  -- Although the 2007 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season officially starts June 1, Keesler Air Force Base's Hurricane Hunters got off to an early start.

Flying a specially equipped WC-130 Hercules, Airmen from the Air Force Reserve Command's 403rd Wing tracked their first tropical disturbance May 9 off the coast of Georgia.

Timing of the mission was reminiscent of the early start of the 2005 record-breaking-hurricane season which stirred up May 20 with Tropical Storm Adrian.

The state-of-the-art WC-130J equipped with a Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer measures surface winds directly below the aircraft.

"The SFMR will be the biggest advance I can think of to improve hurricane intensity forecasts," said Max Mayfield, the former director of the National Hurricane Center.

Data collected by the Hurricane Hunters resulted in the National Hurricane Center naming the storm Subtropical Storm Andrea.

Andrea's minimum central pressure was at 29.62 inches, moving west at 3 mph with sustained winds at 45 mph extending outward up to 115 miles.

The radiometer can also determine rainfall rates within a storm system. This information in addition to wind speeds at flight level provides structural detail of the storm.

Information collected by the Hurricane Hunters increase the accuracy of the National Hurricane Center's forecasts by as much as 30 percent. This data enables the National Hurricane Center to predict more accurately the path of storms in order to save lives and narrow areas of evacuation, center forecasters said. They expect the accuracy of their forecasts to increase with the use of the SFMR.

Two Hurricane Hunter aircraft will be equipped with the radiometers by the end of June with one added each month until all of the 403rd Wing's 10 WC-130J aircraft are outfitted with the SFMR pod.

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