As Hurricane Gustav churns across the Gulf of Mexico, meterologists are using all available resources to track its course--and growing intensity. Gustav is a monster, and could well reach Category 5 strength before it makes landfall.
In an era of satellites and super-computer modeling, one of the most important forecasting tools can be found on the ramp at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. We're referring to the famed Hurricane Hunters" of the Air Force Reserve. Flying their WC-130Js into the heart of the storm, crews of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron provide information that greatly improves the accuracy of hurricane forecasts.
We should say "normally found on the ramp" at Keesler. As Gustav takes aim at the Gulf Coast, the Hurricane Hunters were forced to evacuate their home base, sending personnel and aircraft to Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miami. The unit has conducted "hurr-evacs" for other storms in the past, including Katrina in 2005, and Tropical Storm Fay less than two weeks ago.
Reporter Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press rode along with the Hunters on a recent flight. Ms. Gresko expresses some surprise at the Spartan accomodations inside--it's obvious she's never been on a "Herk" before--but does a credible job of describing the mission and the crew.
In fairness, we should note that the 53rd is not the only outfit that flies weather reconnaissance missions. NOAA has a small fleet of aircraft, manned by pilots and meterologists operating out of MacDill AFB, Florida.