FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Miller
As Central America and Mexico continue recovering from last year's Hurricane Keith, which left a grisly trail of death and destruction, a team of NOAA hurricane specialists and "hurricane hunters" from the U.S. Air Force are meeting with Caribbean weather and emergency officials this week to prepare for the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane Keith, one of 14 named tropical storms that churned in the Atlantic in 2000, killed 24 people --12 in Nicaragua, six in Honduras, five in Belize, and one in Mexico. In Belize alone, the storm caused $225 million in damages.
The annual tour, part of a United Nations effort, enables forecasters from NOAA's National Weather Service and Central American meteorologists and government officials to review critical public safety issues from improving evacuation and air traffic control procedures, to improving hurricane forecasts and warnings.
This week, the tour will take the NOAA specialists and aircrew from the Air Force (reserve) 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Max Mayfield, director of the NOAA's National Hurricane Center and the tour's team leader, said the outreach effort helps meet the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization goal for better weather forecasts across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific.
"It's important to leave the confines of our forecasting center, and the cockpit of the hurricane-hunting aircraft to visit the danger areas and meet our teammates in the countries we collectively serve," Mayfield said. He added, "These are the voices on the other end of the telephone when we make our coordination calls. Their locales are potential sites for the next land-falling hurricane. We consult with them before the storm to facilitate forecasting when the storm arrives."
Mayfield said the partner countries have developed extensive procedures for sharing vital weather information. "The United States depends on the surface and upper air observations taken by member countries. These observations are fed into computer numerical models to forecast the track and intensity of a storm approaching any one of the 24 member countries in the region."
Lixion Avila, a NOAA hurricane center forecaster, said, "Visiting the areas near where Hurricane Keith struck will help us gain the perspective of our colleagues who where there." At each stop on the tour, Avila and Mayfield will brief local officials and the media on the anticipated impacts of this year's hurricanes on the region.
"In demonstrating our two-way relationship, we build a strong base of support and show the value of their observations and forecasts. We operate as a team," Mayfield said.
The centerpiece of the tour is the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's Lockheed WC-130 Hercules aircraft. Lt. Col. Robert Carter, the 53rd's Weather Officer, said, "We invite the public and the media to see the aircraft and talk with the aircrew. These men and women are the aviators and missions specialists who routinely penetrate into the eye of the hurricane, gathering data about the storm's position and intensity."
Carter added, "Our ability to meet local air traffic controllers who coordinate and control our flights is vital in saving time so that we may proceed were we are needed with minimum delay."
Note to Editors:
Additional background information is available on the National
Hurricane Center's Web site at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.