No weather's ill if the wind be still

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Nothing but clear, blue skies filled the air in theTularosa Basin, but that wouldn't be the case as the day progressed. Patches of small white clouds turned into large, ominous storm clouds that transformed the clear New Mexico skyline.

No rainfall was expected, however heavy winds tore across the landscape unaffected by man-made and natural structures. A high-wind advisory was then put out to the base and its tenants by the command post. Forecasters at the 49th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight had predicted this.

"Forecasting here is really different than anywhere else in the country," said Staff Sgt. Keith Flanigan, a weather forecaster at the 49th OSS/OSW. "The terrain affects all of our operations, and that's what is preached to everyone that comes through our station. The mountains can either protect us or be a weather producer."

According to their expertise, the combination of elevation and terrain causes Holloman to endure various weather conditions.

"The biggest weather issue we deal with is high-winds, especially if they come in from the west through White Sands because there's a chance it could turn into a dust storm and cause visibility issues," Sergeant Flanigan said. "The weather here is unlike anywhere else. We've had two tornadoes while I've been here ... countless thunderstorms and hail storms, but for the most part the sun usually shines."

The Weather Flight's mission is to provide current forecast weather data for the base's decision makers. They do this by making a general three day forecast for the base and a very specific forecast for the pilots and ground-crew. Hourly observations are done to understand what's happening in the atmosphere. Forecasts start on a hemispheric scale and all the information is funneled down to a local scale.

"That weather information then goes to the command post, the superintendent of flying, who's in the (air traffic control) tower, and airfield management ... We observe the cloud types and height, wind direction and speed, dust, haze or anything else that can restrict visibility," Sergeant Flanigan said.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of accurately forecasting weather systems is keeping our nation's multi-million dollar weapon systems out of the unforgiving elements.

"A big part of our job is to find and forecast icing, so aircraft that's not supposed to fly through it won't," said Master Sgt. John Harrison, the assistant station chief of weather operations. "If the command deems it necessary (because of inclement weather), flying operations will get shut down."

While supporting pre-flight operations is an essential part of the Weather Flight's mission, they also keep pilots informed overhead.

"Besides issuing warnings, watches and advisories to crews both pre-flight and in-flight, we're also available to any of the pilots that need in-flight weather information, be that transient aircraft, Army aircraft or our own." said Sergeant Flanigan.

Even though the Weather Operations personnel pride themselves on providing accurate forecasts, even the best forecasters can be wrong from time to time, Sergeant Flanigan added.

"Weather forecasting is not an exact science," he said. "You can only forecast so much, get everything right, and still have it go wrong because one small aspect changed, causing a butterfly-effect, which in turn changes everything else. You really have to rely on your experience and knowledge to make it."

The day-to-day challenges and the ever-changing weather keep the forecasters sharp.

"Weather guys take a lot of kidding but it's very rewarding. When you do it right, you can see the impact. Weather has its place of importance, and it's something that cannot be freely-operatedwithout," said Sergeant Harrison.