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Hurricane Hunters fly first storm of 2008 season

7/11/2008 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFPN) -- As the Hurricane Hunters prepared to fly their first storm of the 2008 hurricane season July 11, Hurricane Bertha lumbered on a wide path toward Bermuda.

At the time, the category 1 hurricane kicked up winds of 85 mph. It was about 350 miles south southeast of the island, churning northwest at about 7 mph.

Air Force reservists in the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron provide the National Hurricane Center with data for forecasting the path of nature's most destructive storms.

While the hurricane's current path takes it east of Bermuda, island residents could still experience squally weather and high surf during the weekend.

The Hurricane Hunters are using the newest equipment to help determine the surface level winds, giving people in the area a clearer picture of what to expect.

The Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer, affectionately known as the "Smurf," measures surface winds with more accuracy than previous systems.

"The most important information provided on today's flight will be the radius of gale-force winds for Bermuda," said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, chief aerial reconnaissance weather officer for the Hurricane Hunters. "This is exactly one of the things the Smurf was designed to provide."

The Air Force Reserve Command squadron began using the Smurf last season as it was outfitted on each of the 10 WC-130J Hercules aircraft in the fleet. This year, all aircraft are Smurf-equipped.

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

Having the Smurf on board is the most important advancement for this season, Colonel Talbot said.

With the full capability to provide surface wind speed data, the unit gives National Hurricane Center forecasters the most accurate surface wind speed information before landfall.

"That translates into more accurate warnings for the public," Colonel Talbot said.

Data collected by the Hurricane Hunters increase the accuracy of National Hurricane Center forecasts by as much as 30 percent. Squadron officials think Smurf will boost that percentage and give the National Hurricane Center more accurate information to save lives. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

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