LAKELAND, Fla. — Every hurricane season we talk about the men and women who we call Hurricane Hunters.
The teams that fly high into the eye of a hurricane so we can better predict what the storm is going to do.
"We are on call around the clock, the two P-3's and the one high altitude jet, the G-IV and all of its crews, all their crews are on call for that entire six-month window to support the hurricane forecasts," says Commander Chris Sloan.
But what you may not have known, is that NOAA's team based in Lakeland does more than chase hurricanes.
"So it depends, when we when we're flying for the Fishery Service, we may be out doing a whale survey, we may be out looking for different animals as an indicator of the health of the environment. When we're flying for the National Ocean Service, which sounds kind of weird, we're performing a critical role for the nation, which is coastal mapping," says CDR. Sloan.
The recent snowfall in Denver was a critical mission for the team. Some of the data local meteorologists use to predict things, like flooding, comes from what happens in the air.
CDR Sloan says, "And we have got to know what's going to happen to that snow when it melts? How's it going to impact the down-slope? Is it going to replenish the reservoirs? Or is it going to cause a lot of damage with flooding, so we have aircraft that go up and measure the amount of water that's in that snow from the air."
These teams are deployed for weeks, even months at a time. The missions from NOAA are critical and the expansion from the team looks bright.
"We're going to require more people, more planes in the future. And that's the future being the next 10 years. So that being said, and we know that ahead of time, we recently expanded our facility," says CDR. Sloan.
The team even learning to fly, safely, during a pandemic.
"We have managed to continue to fly our missions because the nation needs it. There are a certain set of missions that are mission essential functions that come. You know, bad weather, bad times, pandemics, we still have to be able to execute those missions," says CDR. Sloan. "And really it was, it was difficult, in the fact that we have to rely upon other scientists flying with us, and making sure they understood our protocols. And then our protocols are there for a reason. They're there to keep us safe and then safe as well and their families and their communities because once they leave the airplane, they have to go back home somewhere."
It was about two years ago that NOAA moved from MacDill Airforce Base to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Since making that transition, it's been nothing but successful.
"Our facility in Lakeland — this is no joke, our facility in Lakeland is a demonstrator for other folks across the entire nation of what can be accomplished in that amount of time. The city of Lakeland not only today welcomed us with open arms, but they built us the most technologically advanced facility, way better than what we ever had in the past and six months from the ground up," explains CDR. Sloan.
"They totally raised the old building and went from the ground up since then they've been the absolute best partners ever Polk County, the city of Lakeland, all the tenants on the airfield there have been great and we try and reciprocate as much as we can we try and contribute to the local community. We have about 115 to 120 employees at the aircraft Operation Center. We do have a new airplane that came online in December. That is replacing one of our older aircraft that has to be retired because of its age."
So, if you're ever in Lakeland, look up! You may just see a critical mission at work.
To read more about the team, click here.