The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron known as the Hurricane Hunters of the Air Force Reserve and a team from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Centre made their inaugural visit to the Territory last week.
The team’s visit on Wednesday, April 13 to Friday, April 15 was a part of the 2016 Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour ‘CHAT’.
The US Air Force WC-130J aircraft and crew arrived at the Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport, Beef Island to a water salute welcome organised by the BVI Airports Authority.
Managing Director of the BVI Airports Authority, Mr. Denniston Fraser welcomed the Hurricane Hunters and noted the significance of their visit to the Territory.
Mr. Fraser stated, “The Hurricane Hunters arrived a day earlier than expected but this is a historic visit to the British Virgin Islands, not only because it is the first of its kind here but also because it signals the importance of hurricane preparedness. Added to this, is the fact that this visit allows our residents, especially those who toured the aircraft, an opportunity to truly appreciate how science and technology have evolved to improve the tracking and data collection capabilities of scientists and forecasters”.
The CHAT is conducted annually prior to the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season which lasts from June 1 to November 30. The aim is to increase public awareness and preparedness considering the serious threat of hurricanes to the Caribbean region during the hurricane season.
Director of the National Hurricane Centre, Dr. Rick Knabb explained that these tours are held in different locations annually to reach as many hurricane prone areas as possible.
He said, “We change our stops each year because we want to reach all the hurricane vulnerable areas and with our partners in the US Air Force, we want to showcase the tools we use operationally at the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) to make the best possible forecast,
so that Disaster Management Agencies can be given the best possible information upon which to make local decisions about how to keep people safe”.
Senior Hurricane Specialist at the NHC, Dr. Lixion Avila stated that the countries visited on the ‘CHAT’ are selected based on requests and whether or not the countries have appropriate means for them to land.
Dr. Avila explained, “Most times I speak to the Directors at all the meteorological services across the Caribbean and they would send me an email a year in advance requesting a visit of the Hurricane Hunter plane. We will then start making preparations for the visit and will have to send the country names to the Air Force to make sure that they have the proper airport to land.”
As part of the awareness and outreach efforts, members of the public were invited to tour the aircraft, view demonstrations and hold discussions with the Hurricane Hunters to understand what is entailed in hurricane tracking and forecasting.
A planned VIP tour of the aircraft by students on Friday, April 15 was cancelled but to ensure that children benefitted from the ‘CHAT’, some members of the team visited several schools to share the information.
The schools visited included the Cedar International School; Alexandrina Maduro, Althea Scatliffe, Isabella Morris, Leonard Delville, and Ebenezer Thomas Primary Schools; Pelican Gate School, Elmore Stoutt High School, St. Georges Primary School and Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies. The students were informed about the special equipment and features of the aircraft which make it possible for the Hurricane Hunter to fly directly into the eye of hurricanes to gather data including the storm/hurricane strength, size, wind, and direction.
Dr. Knabb, Dr. Avila and other representatives from the National Hurricane Centre also visited and held discussions with staff at The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) – the organisation responsible for leading the Territory’s hurricane preparedness and planning efforts.
Director of the DDM, Ms. Sharleen DaBreo welcomed the officials and commended them for their work in providing disaster offices with accurate information that is used for preparedness efforts in the Territory and across the Region.
Ms. DaBreo stated, “Disaster management demands that we prepare and plan for hurricanes and other hazards and this preparedness and planning process relies heavily on data collected during missions carried out by the Hurricane Hunter aircraft and crew”.
She added, “It is from the information collected that we are able to receive accurate predictions from the National Hurricane Centre on the strength, speed, wind and direction of storms and hurricanes. These predictions help to inform critical decisions about the level of preparedness required in the event that a storm or hurricane should make landfall in the Caribbean region and specifically here in the British Virgin Islands”.
The US Air Force WC-130J aircraft conducted a fly by demonstration before departing the Territory at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April15.
The 2016 ‘CHAT’ made its final stop in Ponce, Puerto Rico on Saturday, April16. Prior to arriving in the British Virgin Islands, the ‘CHAT’ visited Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Listen to audio from Dr. Knabb below:
Listen to Dr. Avila below: