The 2014 hurricane season began June 1. To get the most accurate information about a developing storm, meteorologists depend on data provided by the hurricane hunters based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.
Lieutenant Colonel John Talbot is their chief meteorologist. He sat down with FOX10 to talk about what it’s like to fly “into” hurricanes and why his job is important to us.
“We have the opportunity to see what it’s like on the inside of the storm, what makes these storms tick well we can physically see that when we’re flying,” he said. “….measuring what’s going on and see these changes happen as they happen, so we get a bird’s eye view of the whole thing
Lt. Colonel Talbot is chief meteorologist of the 53rd weather reconnaissance squadron.
Also known as the hurricane hunters, Talbot and his fellow airmen fly into the storm to get that important information. On the job for 25-years Talbot said when he offered the position, as a weather guy he could not say no.
“They had an individual here that was getting air sick a lot and they couldn’t do the job on the airplane so they had to find a quick replacement so he asked me, ‘Hey, would you like to go fly into hurricanes?’ That’s the best thing a weather guy could ever do you know you get to see the inside of the storm versus the outside, so yes, so I volunteered to come down here,”
Talbot volunteered for a job at the computer, but in a uniquely different environment.
“As a weather person we’re on the, what I call the other side of the forecast desk,” he said.
“I work in front of a computer, and I’m collecting all of this information. It’s hard to do things interact with that computer when things are bouncing around so it can get pretty tough, but you know us four guys have steel stomachs.”
Buckled in and with all precautions taken, Talbot said every storm is different.
“You can never expect anything because you just don’t know,” he said. “We fly thru the storm and we make multiple passes you know while on a mission.”
Turbulence is a part of the hurricane hunter’s experience.
“You hear about these events that happen on airlines where you know bags go flying come out of the racks.” Talbot told FOX10. “That’s the type of turbulence we get. We expect it, so we’re kind of prepared for it, and it’s a roller coaster type ride where you, you go into a thunderstorm and you hit the updraft and the airplane goes up and then on the opposite side there’s a down draft and the airplane goes down, and then there are times when it just shakes.”
“I can remember one storm, Hurricane Luis was back in the 90s by Puerto Rico, that the plane was shaking so much I thought the rivets were going to come out, and I started thinking to myself, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ It was very nerve racking,” he said.
Storms like Luis may make Talbot’s job as a hurricane hunter difficult, but he’s never concerned about his plane.
“We know the airplane is pretty darn strong,” he said. “These are pretty robust machines. We would break before the airplane probably would,”
Talbot considers his job similar to a first responder, and when the storms come he knows folks are counting on the hurricane hunters.
“We know we have a job to do, and we know there are a lot folks counting on us to go do this, and we know sort of as first responders you know we’re in the business to try to help people make decisions on whether to get out of town or stay or, and the guys that are making the important forecasts we need to make sure the data is absolutely correct,” Talbot said.
He says every mile a hurricane’s track is narrowed saves $250,000. Those are dollars that would be spent to warn or plan for evacuation, business closings, and locating recovery equipment and supplies.
Talbot said he loves his job so much, he plans on staying with the hurricane hunters until he isn’t allowed to fly or retires.