Federal furloughs caused by sequestration could ground “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, depriving forecasters of real-time measurements of storms during what’s expected to be an especially active Atlantic hurricane season.
While NOAA operates some of the Hurricane Hunters, most of the modified C-130s transports that fly into storms to gather vital information on their position, strength and direction are flown by the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The unit is part of the larger 403rd Wing based in Biloxi, Miss.
The Vice Commander of the 403rd, Col. Craig La Fave, told Miami TV affiliate WPLG that, “while NOAA is exempt of the furloughs, we are not”.
La Fave explains that the 53rd could probably juggle work schedules to cover missions – including data monitoring personnel – for one hurricane at a time, “possibly not two, and almost certainly not a three-storm scenario.”
Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, writing for the The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang says that “Under the crunch of three storms threatening land (it has happened), there may not be enough resources to carry out the missions.”
He notes that along with vacancies left at National Hurricane Center due to a sequestion-related hiring freeze:
“Not having aircraft data for a storm near land could have a very real and very negative effect on the accuracy of forecasts. To emphasize just how critical these aircraft missions are, Max Mayfield, a former NHC director and hurricane expert at TV affiliate WPLG in Miami, said he hopes the hurricane specialists at NHC ‘never have to make a forecast and issue watches and warnings on a significant tropical cyclone threatening land areas without aircraft reconnaissance.’”