'Hurricane Hunters' show off specialized weather aircraft in Gander

A pair of specialized weather forecasting aircraft used to predict hurricane patterns were shown off at the Gander International Airport on Sunday afternoon.

Hercules, G-IV open doors to public on first stop of hurricane awareness tour

One of the aircraft on display during the Hurricane Hunter tour stop in Gander on Sunday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A pair of specialized weather forecasting aircraft used to predict hurricane patterns were shown off at the Gander International Airport on Sunday afternoon.

Weather experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took the public through a United States Air Force Reserve WC-130J "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft and NOAA G-IV aircraft to explain how data is collected. 

"We want people to realize there is a direct connection between the data collected by these aircraft and their own personal safety when a hurricane is threatening," said Rick Knabb, Ph.D., director, NOAA National Hurricane Center.

"Hopefully when you walk away from the event today you've more confidence in the collaborations between our two countries."

Rick Knabb, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center, says the stop is part of a tour to ask people to better prepare for hurricane season. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Gander is the first stop and only Canadian community the team will visit during its six-city tour.

Knabb said the purpose of the tour is to motivate the public in communities that could experience hurricanes to prepare for the upcoming season.

"We know we've got a long way to go in that regard," said Knabb. "More and more people, more and more infrastructure is hurricane-vulnerable — all the way from Miami to Newfoundland."

Knabb pointed to Hurricane Igor as a recent example of how inland areas like Gander can feel the impact of a storm.

"It's not just about wind, it's about water as well," said Knabb. "Most of the impacts from that storm here were due to water; even though it was a hurricane with really strong winds, water was doing most of the damage."

Life and death matter

Lt.-Col, Shannon Hailes has been flying planes through hurricanes for science since 2003. 

"It was kind of strange — when I went through pilot training in the military they taught us how to stay away from a lot of the weather hazards we have out there," Hailes told CBC News. 

"Now I'm flying right through the worst of them."

Lt.-Col. Shannon Hails says his goal on the tour is to explain to people how the Hurricane Hunters forecast major weather events. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Hailes said the best part of the tour is teaching families how to be prepared for bad weather and he hopes to increase trust in weather forecasts.

"When Katrina came through a lot of people said, 'Well, I'm not leaving. My home survived Hurricane Camille so I'm fine,'" said Hailes.

"And then a lot of those people died. It was a huge loss of life."

"I can understand some of it — people don't want to leave their property, they're scared something's going to happen," he said. "But I wish they did listen to us."

Regional forecasting

The event also served as a meet and greet between agencies. Data from the aircraft is used in regional forecasts out of the Gander Weather Office at the airport.

"It's very important to get that information out," said David Neil, a meteorologist at the Gander Weather Office for Environment Canada who echoed calls for the public to be prepared for emergency events. 

Weather specialists with the Hurricane Hunter team gave tours of special weather aircraft in Gander. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"It only takes one storm to cause major problems, whether it's flooding, wind damage, all that sort of thing. So even if we might have some of these tropical storms that stay off shore, you only need one of those to come to make landfall or even get close to landfall to cause problems."

Members of the Red Cross, Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador and the Salvation Army had booths with emergency information on hand.

Meteorologists with the Canadian Hurricane Centre were scheduled to attend but their flight was delayed by fog around Halifax.