By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo, 403rd Wing Public Affairs / Published August 25, 2014
2nd Lt. Leesa Froelich, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aerial reconnaissance weather officer, analyzes meteorological and atmospheric conditions during a 96L, now Tropical Storm Cristobal, invest mission over the Caribbean Aug. 22, 2014. The data the Hurricane Hunters collect is sent by satellite link to the National Hurricane Center in Miami to assist with their weather forecasts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo)
ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS (AFNS) --
Aircrews with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron have been flying data-gathering missions into Tropical Storm Cristobal out of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, since Aug. 21.
The Hurricane Hunters flew the first low-level invest mission Aug. 21 and continued to investigate the weather system around the clock until it was named Tropical Storm Cristobal early Sunday morning.
A low-level invest mission is flown at 500 to 1,500 feet to determine if winds are rotating in a circular pattern, which indicates that a storm is becoming more organized and increasing in strength, said Capt. Tobi Baker, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aerial reconnaissance weather officer.
"The lower the altitude you are, the stronger the circulation is, so if it's a weak storm that is where you are going to find the winds," he said.
The aircraft collects weather data, to include temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and surface pressure data, continuously throughout the mission, said Baker.
Once a system becomes a tropical storm or hurricane, the Hurricane Hunters begin flying at higher altitudes, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet depending on the severity of the storm, said Baker. Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During each pass through the eye, they release a dropsonde, which collects weather data on its descent to the ocean surface, specifically gathering the surface winds and pressure.
During the invest and storm flights, the aircrews transmit weather data via satellite communication every 10 minutes to the National Hurricane Center to assist them with their forecasts and storm warnings.
As of 2 p.m. Sunday, Cristobal was located near the southeastern Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the NHC. Their models indicate that the storm will not hit the U.S. coast, heading northeast into the Atlantic.
The squadron will continue to fly the storm until no longer a threat and will operate from St. Croix until Aug. 29, said Baker.