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      Hurricane hunters save lives, money

      Weatherbird (Source: US Air Force)

      By Tom Crawfordtcrawford@abcnews4.com

      CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- For our safety, they fly into the heart of storms risking their lives in hopes of saving others.

      We all know that the hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30 for the North Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. There's much less known about the highly-trained group of men and women who actually fly into tropical storms and hurricanes.

      Many hold several jobs as veterinarians, teachers, mechanics and members of the U.S. military.

      Hurricanes Hunters from Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi formed in 1944 and since then have developed into one of the most informative assets that we as taxpayers fund. They are data collectors. They are weather warriors.

      They collect valuable information on storms that will not only affect the U.S. coastline but many islands to the south and east of our coast.

      The information is sent to the Tropical Prediction Center for evaluation and for forecasting where the storms are located. From there, predictions are made on where the storms will go and who they will impact.

      The information used in forecasting saves lives and property.

      If a hurricane warning occurs, it typically costs an estimated $192 million in preparation. There's a loss of money for those evacuating and a loss of commerce.

      In addition to saving lives, the Hurricane Hunters pinpoint exact locations of storms to eliminate the amount of money lost due to evacuations of areas not be affected. It's an estimated savings of about $1 million per mile of coastline.

      What do they fly?

      The aircraft they fly is a WC-130-J aircraft. It's a beast of a plane known commonly as the Weatherbird. It's a lighter, high-wing, medium-range modification of the C-130 Hercules. {}There are 10 of such aircraft that are assigned to the air base. There's a large fuel tank for extended hours of flight, allowing the plane to fly into storms for 14 hours or more.

      Seldom does it land back in the same place from which it left.

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