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Challenging Mother Nature, forecasting what’s to come

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Claire Behney
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
Thunderstorms and Nor' Easters are two of the biggest weather threats that could ground a pilot. From behind the scenes the 193rd Special Operations Wing Weather Station works to forecast these conditions to ensure the safety of those transiting through Muir Army Air Field, Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pa.

Staged on the flight line of Muir Army Air Field, the Weather Station's three-man team has a combined total of more than 100 years of meteorology experience making them a key asset to the Gap.

"It's an aviation type of forecast, we're strictly pilot oriented here so it's much more detailed," said Don Roth, a meteorological technician with the Weather Station. "We're telling the pilots how high the clouds are, how far they'll be able to see, what the winds are going to be, what the pressure is going to be for their aircraft; so it's a little bit different than telling you that it's going to be cloudy with a chance of showers."

This information is given to the pilots in a mandatory weather briefing they receive from the Weather Station before every takeoff.

"The pilots report to us in the Weather Station for a DD Form 175-1 Weather Briefing," said Bruce Russell, manager of the Weather Station. "The weather briefing form then gets attached to their flight plan and the two documents go together to give the pilot a release to fly."

Along with briefing pilots, a typical day for the Weather Station involves putting out a local area weather briefing three times a day; morning, mid-day and evening. This report goes out onto their network so their customers can pull up the briefing and know what the weather is going to be.

"Even on the best weather days, we are always looking over the horizon for the next approaching storm to predict the impact that it will have on flying operations," Russell said of their daily tasks.

Aside from Army aviation, another major customer of the Weather Station is the Eastern Army Aviation Training Site, also located at the Gap. EAATS conducts aircraft qualification courses, instructor pilot training and many other aviation training courses. The Weather Station provides aviation forecasting for EAATS as well.

Other customers for the Weather Station include the post's non-flying operations and they support them with resource protection in the form of weather warnings. The Weather Station coordinates with the 15th Operational Weather Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., in order to issue weather advisories.

"We are the 15th's eyes forward," said Russell. "We are their local eyes and ears."

Along with working with the 15th during weather forecasting, the Weather Station also assists them in their training. The Weather Station provides required on-the-job training for the Airmen of the 15th, as well as the Airmen of the Wing's 203rd Weather Flight.

Gary Peel, a meteorological technician with the Weather Station, said once Airmen graduate from their military technical school they are able to report to the Weather Station to get key hands-on forecasting experience and are able to put to use what they've learned in school.

"The Airmen come in highly motivated and they've got the knowledge, we just help to fine tune them and get them mission ready," said Peel. "It's not something we have to do, but it's a way we can help."

Both the 203rd Weather Flight and the Weather Station fall under command of Col. Christopher Dutton, 193rd Regional Support Group commander; however, while the Weather Flight is the combat arm and deploys, the Weather Station is immobile and employed by civilian technicians, Russell said.

The team members of the Weather Station are all retired Air Force non-commissioned officers, who each dedicated more than 20 years of active duty service in the meteorology field, making them highly experienced with a lot of knowledge to share.

That experience and knowledge can be seen every day, whether on the job or working alongside new Airmen, sharing what they know.

"Just last week we had a crew flying around during a thunderstorm watch and we were communicating over the FM radio with them," said Russell.

Russell said the pilot asked him to continue keeping him advised to the movement of the storm because he had priority issues to accomplish.

"When we saw the storm crossing the river headed for Muir we advised him to return to base immediately and he did, just beating the microburst - another save," Russell said.

The Weather Station was also able to rise to the challenges of this year's winter storms.

"What a year this has been and we've been doing really well in putting out the warnings," said Russell. "We've hit the snow fall amounts well this year and gave our customers enough lead time to be able to get things back into the hangers and cleared off the ramps."

So while the Weather Station is successfully mission focused, their dedication to the career field plays just as key of a role.

"I don't think I could do anything else," said Roth. "It's a new puzzle to solve every day and when you go to weather school, you never see the sky the same as the person that doesn't know what they're looking at."