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'Hurricane Hunters' Kick Off Tropical Tour

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A WC-130J 'Hurricane Hunter' aircraft powers down after returning from the final flight into Hurricane Irene in late August 2011. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens.)

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be on board one of the giant planes that fly through storms, now you can satisfy your curiosity — and without all that nasty turbulence.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve's famed Hurricane Hunters, colossal WC-130J prop planesthat fly through monster storms, are making a tour of regions in Mexico and the Caribbean that are often in the crosshairs of severe and sometimes deadly weather.

From March 12 to 17, one of the giant, storm-chasing planes will be available for free tours in six different communities to encourage residents to prepare for the 2012 hurricane season, which officially begins on June 1.

"We are in an active hurricane era. While 2011 was not as catastrophic as recent seasons, the Caribbean and Latin America still experienced tragic loss of life from flooding caused by hurricanes," said National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Bill Read, in a statement.

The 2011 hurricane season was a busy one for crew and staff of the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. — headquarters for the squadron, which has been flying into storms for 68 years.

The NHC relies on the meteorologists and flight crews aboard the aircraft to send back information on hurricane formation and developmentthat can't be gleaned from satellites or other existing infrastructure.

Since hurricanes form over the ocean, there is no network of weather-sensing instruments available to gather information forecasters need to monitor the fury and path of a hurricane.

"This tour is an opportunity for us to educate coastal communities about what they need to do to prepare for a hurricane," Read said. "Preparation will reduce the human and economic toll."

Locations and times for public tours are listed below (all times are local):

March 12, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.  – Campeche Intl. Airport, Campeche, Mexico

March 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Chetumal Intl. Airport, Chetumal, Mexico

March 14, noon to 3 p.m. – Limon Intl. Airport, Limon, Costa Rica

March 15, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Juan Santa Maria Intl. Airport, San Jose, Costa Rica

March 16, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Princess Juliana Intl. Airport, San Maartin

March 17, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Isla Grande Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.