Hurricane Hunters

No matter how many storms this season produces, there's one courageous group of men and women that will risk their lives so we can know more about the storms.

They are the hurricane hunters, based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Recently Meghan Grey from KPLC's sister station WLOX, took a flight with the hurricane hunters.

The C-130-J is an important weapon when it comes to tracking Hurricanes.

There are ten on base, enough for Keesler's Hunters to fly 3 storms at once.

It takes five people to fly a mission. Each one carries out a specific and vital job.

Lt. Col Jon Talbot is a Weather Reconnaissance Officer with the 403rd, which basically means he is a "flying" meteorologist.

Talbot:  "This is an exciting job for a weather guy, because we get to see the other side of the table.  You know, instead of sitting down making a forecast, we get to come experience it."      Sitting beside Lt. Col. Talbot in the belly of the plane, is Tech Sgt. Darryl Bickham.

Bickham: "My job as a load master is to load and unload cargo. Plus, I'm responsible for passengers if we have any, and the weight and balance of the plane pre-flight and assist the pilots whenever they need help on anything."

The pilots are Captain Sean Cross and Major Darryl Woods.

Between them they've flown storms for 13 years. Both tracked Katrina, and both agree, the journey to the eye of a storm can be a bumpy ride.

Cross: "Think of the worst turbulence you've ever flown in and then multiply that probably by 4 or 5. And if you were sitting in the back of the airliner, I guarantee your tray table and your drink and food would probably be on the top of the plane."

Cpt. Cross says each storm has a personality of its own, so you have to be prepared for anything.

I asked Maj. Woods if that ever made him nervous.

Woods: "I'm not afraid of hurricanes. But I have a healthy respect for the weather we're about to fly through. I mean, you definitely think about it."

It may not be dressed for comfort, but each C-130-J is built strong enough to fly into the heart of some of the most ferocious storms. But more importantly it has the technology to keep us at home safe.

Talbot: "Basically this airplane is a flying computer...This screen here, this is our main data screen where all our data that's collected about once every second comes into the airplane...I coordinate with.....our dropsonde operator, to drop instruments, not only when we go through the eye, but in the eye wall."

Bickham: It [a drosonde] has a GPS transmitter in it, and it also has sensors in it that we get data from."

Data like pressure, temperature, and wind speed, which goes directly to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. That information helps save lives.

Cross: "That's why I like to do it, we know we're actually making a difference during storm season.. We know we're actually helping people because the accuracy in forecasts is increased by 30 percent."

And this season, Hurricane Hunters will be armed with new technology that will give them even more accurate information about the storms they're tracking.

Talbot: "This is going to be an exciting piece of new equipment.  It's called a microwave radiometer... A step frequency."

Mounted on the plane's wing, it uses micro-waves to constantly measure how fast the wind is blowing at the surface 10,000 feet below the plane.

Talbot: "And that's going to be a big, big.. Make a big difference in intensity forecasting of hurricanes and make a big difference to the folks that have to provide the warnings to the public."

And that will help save more lives, and money, when it comes to ordering future evacuations.

The hurricane hunters don't just fly hurricanes.

In fact, from December to April, crews are tasked to fly winter storms. And the 53rd squadron is also responsible for transporting wounded soldiers and military cargo. They'll even be helping out with the upcoming presidential race by carrying limousines and secret service.