A.J.'s Blog: Hurricane Hunters take on a new twist

By A.J. Giardina - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - After covering only sports for 26 years at WLOX, my broadcasting career took a turn toward news. It happened on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina blew through the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I always enjoyed helping people and I can thank my parents for a strong upbringing while growing up in New Orleans and in Metairie.  My mother was forced to take over the reins of raising me and my twin brother after my dad died when I was 11-years-old.  She didn't miss a beat and made sure we always did the right thing.

I was raised to be honest, hard working, and trustworthy.  I live under those guidelines to this day.  That's why I jumped full speed ahead in becoming the station's Action Reporter. I actively covered residents who were taken advantage of by contractors and residents who were overlooked and forgotten by FEMA. I tell it the way it is.

On Tuesday, May 19, my assignment was to fly with the 403rd Wing located at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.  The mission of the Hurricane Hunters is to perform aerial weather reconnaissance, providing surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the central Pacific Ocean.  All the information gathered is provided to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. We're less than two weeks from the start of the 2009 Hurricane Season.

Tuesday's flight was special. Major Chad Gibson said, "It's very exciting to be a part of history.  The first blogger flight in the history of the Air Force and I believe the history of the military."

I, along with 17 media members and bloggers from Atlanta, Chicago, Virginia, Miami, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, boarded one of the ten WC-130 J transport planes.  The Hurricane Hunter aircraft collect information that makes it possible for advance warnings of hurricanes and increases the accuracy of hurricane predictions and warnings by as much as 30 percent.

It was a beautiful day, sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.

Flight Commander Major John Wanger said, "We've never had bloggers on the airplane. Kind of curious to see how that side of the media portrays the mission and it should be interesting."

We took off at 10:13 a.m. and after almost three hours we landed back in Biloxi.  Everyone got to see the Hurricane Hunters at work, doing a job that has helps save thousands of lives every year.

From one of the two big windows in the back of the plane, I was able to video a beautiful site of downtown New Orleans on the same day that the NFL awarded the Crescent City the 2013 Super Bowl game.  We were able to see the crooked path of the Mississippi River and the sandy beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Josh Samuels, a blogger correspondent from Miami, said his flight was an eye opener.

"I learned a lot more about the 403rd's mission and really what their relationship is to the rest of the people who set up all the weather forecasting information that everyday civilians and military personnel get and really pan their lives around during hurricane season," Samuels said.

Bruce McSwain of Atlanta blogs for "Black 5," a military blog that receives between 10,000 and 14,000 hits each day.  He was surprised to learn that most of the Hurricane Hunters are reservists.

"The mission load is huge and that was kind of stunning.  I mean what they are required to do, that's a lot of time away from home," he said.

While this flight won't rival the history making flight of the Wright Brothers, the first-ever bloggers flight will spread the word of the excellent work that the Hurricane Hunters do.  In 2008, the Hurricane Hunters flew into the eye of a hurricane 162 times.

Let's cross our fingers and toes, and why not throw in some prayers, hoping that the 2009 Hurricane Season will be a quiet one.  However, we can sleep soundly at night knowing the Hurricane Hunters are prepared when called on to provide as much information on hurricanes that head our way - information that will save lives.

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