BILOXI — The commander of the Hurricane Hunters says the squadron is facing some tough choices as to which storms they fly into and how often.
“Three we can’t do. Two I can do for a short time,” Col. Craig LaFave, commander of the 403rd Reserve Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, tells WLOX-TV.
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, which is part of the 403rd, flies into the eye of the storm and gather information to help predict where that storm is likely to head next. LaFave said with sequestration and furloughs, how much hunting Hurricane Hunters will be able to do.
“We’re going to test that theory here this weekend. We’re going to send three aircraft to Hawaii to fly that Eastern Pacific storm and we’re going to send three aircraft to the east to St. Croix. But the two-storm scenario is only sustainable for about five or six days. After that we’ll run out of people, essentially.
“So we’re OK now at the beginning, but the problem is that if at the end of that period if another wave rolls off and we’ve already burned off our crews on the first couple of storms, that’s when the real problems come up,” LaFave said.
Officials said if two simultaneous missions prove to be too much, it may come down to some hard choices.
“The options will be either we prioritize the storms, or we don’t fly certain storms, or we fly to all the storms less often. Those are going to be some of the tough choices that will be in discussion with the Hurricane Center,” LaFave said.
LaFave said his team is trying to figure out ways to make the numbers work. He should have a better idea of how far resources can be stretched until he runs out of people able to work.
“It is a little odd to tell somebody you’re furloughed on a Wednesday, but I need you overtime on Thursday.
“But we are not exempt. I have to follow the law. We are not exempt from furloughs or sequestration. I have to furlough everybody two days a pay period, every two weeks. I can work them on other days so we can mitigate to a degree working people on their non-furlough days. I just cannot cancel or exempt members from being furloughed.”