The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center partnered together for another year to promote hurricane preparedness through the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour April 9-17.
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The purpose of this tour, also known as the CHAT, is to raise hurricane awareness across Latin America and the Caribbean, and to maintain and expand partnerships among the NHC, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Air Force and neighbors in the region.
The Hurricane Hunters and NHC officials stopped at four different locations during their tour; two were in Mexico – Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, and two were in the Caribbean – the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. NHC officials taking part in the tour were Dr. Rick Knabb, NHC director, Lixion Avila, NHC senior hurricane specialist, and Gladys Rubio, Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch meteorologist.
“The key to this tour is encouraging people to prepare in advance, before the next hurricane while the weather is still good, because figuring out your hurricane plan is very difficult when the hurricane is on your doorstep,” said Knabb.
Col. Frank Amodeo, commander of the 403rd Wing, of which the 53rd WRS is a component, said, “Beyond just providing data for the National Hurricane Center, the great thing about this mission is that we are ambassadors for the United States visiting our allies, our friends and our neighbors. We’re educating them not just about hurricane preparedness, but also giving them a peek at our military and our commitment to the region.”
For the first leg of the tour, Hurricane Hunters and NHC officials stopped at the international airport in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to provide information to local residents and media about their missions and hurricane preparedness.
Several officials from various Mexican government organizations toured the aircraft and talked both with Hurricane Hunter crew members and U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. William H. Etter, Commander, Continental North American Aerospace Defense Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern).
Amodeo spoke to the importance of the U.S. Air Force Northern Command’s participation in this event.
“(This mission) also entails partnering with other countries, so in addition to promoting hurricane preparedness, this is also a ready-made theater security cooperation mission,” said Amodeo. “So for NORTHCOM to embrace (the CHAT) and include this in their annual planning is the right thing to do, and General Etter, our 1st Air Force commander, got to see that firsthand.”
The next day the general and two Mexican officials, Roberto Ramirez de la Parra, Director General of Conagua, Mexico, and Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Mexico, flew with the Hurricane Hunters to the next stop on the tour, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. During the flight, Etter thanked the officials for the strong partnerships and working relationships between the U.S. and Mexican governments.
The Hurricane Hunters next scheduled stop on the CHAT was Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but inclement weather prevented them from landing there, and the Hurricane Hunters had to divert to their next scheduled stop in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, arriving April 13.
This was the first time the Hurricane Hunters and NHC members visited these Caribbean islands since the tours began in the 1970s. Hurricane Hunters met with local government officials, such as Dr. D. Orlando Smith, Premier and Minister of Tourism, and Sharleen DaBreo, director of the British Virgin Islands Department of Disaster Management, to discuss ways to coordinate and distribute weather data. They also provided tours of the WC-130J weather aircraft they flew and visited local schools to talk with students about the Hurricane Hunter mission and hurricane preparedness.
The final stop of the tour was at Ponce, Puerto Rico. The Hurricane Hunters provided a tour of their WC-130J weather aircraft to more than 10,000 visitors April 16 as well as interviews to local media that day. Maria Melendez, Mayor of Ponce, welcomed the Hurricane Hunters and NHC officials upon their arrival April 15 to thank them for the data they provide for hurricane forecasting, and Angel Crespo, Puerto Rico Emergency Management director, thanked them for the mission they perform, which provides his department information distributed to the public to help with hurricane preparedness.
“Many years ago you would see people scrambling to the stores to buy supplies just before a hurricane arrives, but you don’t see that as much anymore,” said Crespo. “The information provided by the Hurricane Hunters and National Hurricane Center helps us provide information to the people so they prepare themselves in advance for the upcoming storm season.”
For 1st Lt. Leesa Froelich, 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer, this was her fourth year as an ARWO, but her first year participating in the CHAT. She also stressed the significance of these tours to the public.
“These tours are very important for the public since it gives them the opportunity to see and learn about what we do, and to learn about how to prepare for when a storm comes their way,” said Froelich.
For another member of the 53rd WRS, this was his eleventh and final CHAT with the Hurricane Hunters. Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, 53rd WRS chief ARWO, who is scheduled to retire June 2016, expressed his appreciation for being able to take part in these tours throughout the years.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people, and I’ve really enjoyed taking part in getting this vital message about hurricane preparedness out to people in this part of the world,” said Talbot.