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Fwd: Forwarded Air Force Print News story: Anatomy of a hurricane hunter: When storms get personal

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  • Bob Tyszka
    Thought you might like this. Bob T. Anatomy of a hurricane hunter: When storms get personal By Randy Roughton Air Force News Service KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2013
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      Thought you might like this.

      Bob T.

      Anatomy of a hurricane hunter: When storms get personal
      By Randy Roughton Air Force News Service KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss.

      -- During Maj. Sean Cross' first flight into what became Hurricane
      Katrina in August 2005, he and his WC-130J Hercules crew joked and asked
      themselves why they were even tasked for the mission. "There was
      absolutely nothing to it at that point," he said. By his second flight,
      the jokes stopped and were soon replaced by concern for their own
      families and homes after the hurricane crossed south Florida and entered
      the Gulf of Mexico on a direct path toward the Mississippi coast where
      the Hurricane Hunters of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron are
      based. Katrina was only the most extreme example of the dilemma
      Hurricane Hunter crewmembers face while collecting data in storms that
      sometimes threaten their homes and loved ones in south Mississippi.
      Eight years since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in Louisiana and
      Mississippi, killing more than 1,800 people and causing more than $95
      billion in damage, Cross has even more at stake as he begins his 13th
      season with the 53rd WRS. While he's flying through storms, he now has
      3-year-old son Cooper with his wife Apryl Ready back in their home in
      Biloxi. "We have crewmembers all across the Gulf Coast, so at any one
      time, anyone in the squadron can be directly affected by a storm," Cross
      said. "The tough part is when you're looking at the forecast as you're
      coming in to fly. Then, we go fly, and we're basically dropping crumbs
      along a trail as we're tracking the storm. We look at where we live and
      where this track is going and where it's shifting, and we're playing
      mind games with ourselves, basically trying to wish this storm somewhere
      else. No. 1, you've got to stay focused on the safety of the crew and
      the plane. But No. 2, you're thinking about the people on the ground and
      the lives that are going to be affected." Storm preparation must begin
      much earlier in the Cross home, along with other Hurricane Hunter
      crewmembers, than most of their fellow Gulf Coast residents. When most
      coastal residents are trying to get as far inland as possible the day or
      two before a hurricane reaches the Biloxi beaches, Cross is flying at
      10,000 feet in the teeth of the storm itself. Their preparation cannot
      wait until a hurricane reaches the Gulf. "We have to sit down with his
      calendar and my work calendar and try to clear everything from July to
      October," said Ready, a Biloxi attorney. "We don't plan any vacations
      during that time. We don't plan any trips, and I try not to set any
      trials. Because I know that he's going to be gone most of that time, I'm
      going to have Cooper by myself, and I don't need the extra stress of
      having a trial or a trip on top of that." The family uses a clothes
      hamper to store important papers, laptop computers, portable hard
      drives, and other important items such as Monkey, Cooper's prized
      stuffed animal. Cross makes sure his family has a plan in place, and his
      wife knows what to do, which eases his mind so he can concentrate on the
      storm, the plane and his crew during hurricane missions. "As a
      crewmember, it's easier on me knowing that I have a plan, and we put
      that plan into action sooner rather than later," Cross said. "The last
      thing I need to have on my mind and worry about while I'm flying a plane
      is when Apryl is going to leave. I'd rather know she and Cooper are out
      of the way, and she knows that, too. She doesn't want me to be thinking
      about them while we're in a storm." The 2013 hurricane season, which
      began June 1 and continues through November, is forecast to be another
      active year for storm formation. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
      Administration predicts 13 to 20 named storms with sustained winds of 39
      mph or higher, with seven to 11 becoming hurricanes and three to six
      major hurricanes, said James Franklin, National Hurricane Center
      specialist unit branch chief. Hurricane reconnaissance flights like NOAA
      and the 53rd WRS, improve the National Hurricane Center's forecasts by
      at least 15 percent, Franklin said. Cross transferred to the 53rd WRS in
      2001 from the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field near Eglin Air
      Force Base, Fla. Three years later, he flew into Hurricane Ivan as the
      Category 4 storm was headed for the Florida Panhandle where his parents,
      Henry and Jerry Cross, live. By 2005, Cross' experience with hurricanes
      made him painfully aware of how bad Katrina was going to be. He told his
      wife and friends, who didn't believe him until they saw the devastation
      left after the storm passed. "My wife had never experienced a direct hit
      from a major hurricane before," Cross said. "I told her the coast is not
      prepared for what's going to happen here. This is probably going to be a
      direct hit on the Biloxi area. The coast is going to be changed
      forever." At least half a dozen 53rd WRS members lost their homes during
      Katrina, and the squadron relocated to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.,
      for the rest of the season and never missed a tasking from the National
      Hurricane Center. The family put their evacuation plan into action last
      year as Hurricane Isaac bore down on the Mississippi coast. The squadron
      evacuated the 10 WC-130Js to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in
      Houston. On Aug. 28, the day before the seventh anniversary of Katrina,
      the 200-mile-wide hurricane made landfall near the mouth of the
      Mississippi River in Louisiana, 75 miles from New Orleans, bringing high
      winds and significant rainfall to Biloxi. "I'm in the Gulf flying
      through Isaac knowing that Apryl and Cooper are right here taking care
      of the house by themselves," Cross said. "I spent the night in Houston,
      biting my nails wanting to know if I could get back here. Fortunately,
      we had enough air crewmembers willing to stay with the aircraft and fly
      the mission, and I came home the day before landfall to take Apryl and
      Cooper, and we headed to Florida out of harm's way." Now that they have
      a child of their own, Cross and Ready are even more resolute to make
      sure they're not in a situation that could jeopardize their lives
      whether the next hurricane that impacts the coast resembles Isaac or
      Katrina. One of Ready's friends and her 4-year-old daughter stayed in
      their hurricane-damaged house after Katrina, and Cross saw the impact
      the experience had on the child. "I can only put myself in (Cooper's)
      shoes, to come home as a 3 ½ -year-old, and everything he's got is
      destroyed," Cross said. "The most important thing to him is probably his
      Monkey. If you can plan ahead and take something that is a valuable
      thing like a special toy for your child, it makes a huge difference in
      the long run." When Cooper is old enough to understand, they also plan
      to talk to him about what his father does for a living and about
      hurricanes. They have The Weather Channel's current TV show, "The
      Hurricane Hunters," along with photos of their house that was damaged by
      Katrina and their own stories. "I remember my parents telling me the
      story about Hurricane Camille (in 1969) and how they lost everything,"
      Ready said. "That's how you learn - from stories other people tell of
      their experiences with hurricanes. We will sit him down, tell him
      stories and show pictures to tell him he has to prepare just like we do
      to get out of the way when a storm is coming."
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