CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Hurricane season begins June 1, which will bring the possibility of destructive and deadly storms to the East and Gulf coasts.
Knowing the threat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has conducted the hurricane awareness tour for almost 30 years, alternating between the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. This year, one of the five tour stops on the East Coast was Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point May 4.
In 2010, no hurricanes made landfall in the United States. However, Hurricane Earl grazed the Carolina coast with a near miss, reminding people that they have to be prepared for hurricanes any time.
The event was held on the flight line, where first responders displayed the gear they use to help people if a hurricane hits. Marine Transport Squadron 1 made an appearance, as well as Coast Guard units from both Elizabeth City and Fort Macon, N.C.
“We do a thing called the hurricane awareness tour every year where we visit five coastal cities one year on the East Coast, and next year on the Gulf Coast,” said Bill Read, the director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. “The whole point of it is, by using the hurricane hunter aircraft as an attraction, we can bring together local officials, emergency responders and the media who have to work together and know what’s going on in a hurricane. We use that opportunity to educate people on hurricane risks and what they need to prepare for.”
The main attraction was NOAA’s WP-3D Orion, an aircraft they use for ‘hurricane hunting,’ or dropping scientific instruments from the aircraft to measure weather conditions inside the storm. This information is then used to help forecast the path of the storm, vastly increasing prediction accuracy.
According to NOAA maps, forecasters would have predicted Hurricane Katrina to make landfall about 140 miles or more west of New Orleans if they had not used the hurricane hunter aircraft. With the hurricane hunter aircraft, they successfully predicted where the storm would make landfall.
“We used the opportunity to help them understand how important hurricane hunting is and how very serious these folks take their job,” said Kat Broome, deputy director of Carteret County emergency services. “I look at it as if they made the investment to gather information and make the best possible forecast, so the public gets the best possible information and can make informed decisions on how to protect their own lives and families to ensure their own personal safety. Although in this area we have not been hit in with a hurricane very recently, the potential is always there.”
Col. Philip J. Zimmerman, MCAS Cherry Point commanding officer, has been stationed here four times and has seen storms pass through the area several times. According to Zimmerman, only some of the damage comes from the winds, while most of the damage comes from the rain floods and storm surge.
“We have an emergency operations center to coordinate with NOAA, and with our local Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic center,” said Zimmerman. “We’ll look at the predictions of where it’s going to hit and set appropriate destructive weather conditions. We’ll put service people on alert to repair power and essential services to the base. As the storm approaches, we’ll start shutting down services and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing will start redeploying or move aircraft into the hangars. We’ll set conditions so we can weather the storm. As soon as the storm passes, we’ll bring services back up.”
NOAA Cmdr. Carl E. Newman, a hurricane hunter pilot, said his crew makes response plans credible and is similar to a military service.
“The whole point of the tour is to share with the public our credibility, make them aware of what we do and how it’s done, so that when they’re asked by authorities to evacuate or stay, they’ll do exactly that,” said Newman. “This is fun. I love flying airplanes and taking part in the science, but this is a public service, like being in the Marines. You protect the country, and we protect the country from dangerous things like storms.”