Sequestration could keep 'Hunters' out of the eye of the storm

By Sonya Stevens

BILOXI (WCIV) -- They fly right into the eye of the storm, but these brave individuals are now facing one obstacle outside of the tropics called sequestration.

The Hurricane Hunters, which are based out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., are facing furloughs which could keep them out of some tropical systems.

"We take the vast majority of the brunt when it comes to actually flying into the storms, so there is no other way to get that data that we provide then flying into the storms, so it's not like we can scale back on the flights and rely more on satellite data. That is just not accurate; there is just not enough data for them to fill the prediction models," said{}Brian Lamar, 403rd Public Affairs Officer.

The crew, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the 403rd Wing, can easily cover one storm, but more than that could be a challenge this hurricane season.

"A three-storm scenario is definitely something that we don't see how we could manage for any length of time," said Lamar. "Two storms, we feel like we can only manage to cover that with an overlap of the two storms for about five days before we start running out of people to track the storm with."

After a crew member reaches 32 hours of work a week, they start getting in their furlough period. Fortunately, there is some flexibility when it is a life or property issue.

"If there is something in the Gulf, that is an easier situation because a lot of our personnel live in our base right here in Biloxi and it's easier flying out of there, but if you have got three crews down in St. Croix that requires extra people," said Lamar.

The crew may have to pick and choose the storms they fly into, especially in August and September if storms start lining up in the Atlantic -- but they are hoping it doesn't come to that.

"Not being able to pinpoint and track that eye from its early stages on through its development as a storm obviously doesn't do any favors for the predication models," said Lamar.

Without that vital information like air pressure, temperature, wind speed and the exact location of the eye, the forecast from the National Hurricane Center won't be as accurate and the cone of uncertainty will have to increase.

"This will mean more folks will have to evacuate and more evacuations, more money being spent on emergency services to get people evacuated," said Lamar.

The bottom line is that you want the most accurate forecast possible, which means paying the pilot and crew to get in the center of the storm.

"A lot of people don't realize in just one or two land falling hurricanes each year just the money that we save the U.S. economy based on closure of services, things like that due to evacuations," he said. "The money that we save pays for our squadron's operation budget each year."

And while we don't know exactly what Mother Nature will send our way this hurricane season, Lamar says the crew that hunts for the eye of the storm will work as hard as they can around these economic hurdles in order to keep the public safe.