Hurricane Hunters return to St. Croix

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ST. CROIX - The Hurricane Hunters are back.

Members of the 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron - the Hurricane Hunters - are on St. Croix this week, getting equipment and supplies in place and at the ready for Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1.

The Hurricane Hunters fly WC-130J aircraft into tropical cyclones and disturbances to gather data that the National Hurricane Center then uses to determine the status of a storm and make predictions.

Based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., the Hurricane Hunters typically deploy to St. Croix several times throughout the hurricane season, using the island as a forward base from which they can investigate storms spinning across the Atlantic or the Caribbean.

Every May, they pre-position supplies and spare parts so that when the National Hurricane Center calls on them, everything is ready for them to fly their missions off St. Croix.

Lt. Col. Roy Deatherage, mission commander and a meteorologist who has been coming with the Hurricane Hunters to St. Croix since 1996, said they average four deployments to St. Croix each summer, but the number of deployments and the amount of time spent here varies according to the situation.

A deployment could last from two days to two weeks, he said. While deployed, members of the unit stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.

They can investigate storms in the Atlantic as far as 700 miles east of the island, according to Deatherage.

The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to bring below-average tropical cyclone activity.

The Colorado State University hurricane forecasting team of Phil Klotzbach and William Graywith predict there will be nine named storms and three hurricanes, one of them major.

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