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Airmen minimize DOD weather-related losses

by 2nd Lt. Dan Muggelberg
26th Operational Weather Squadron

3/21/2008 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The 26th Operational Weather Squadron here helped minimize Department of Defense losses during severe regional weather recently that resulted in more than 20 civilian deaths and power outages affecting millions.

The 26th OWS, which provides Air Force and Army installations weather watches, warnings and advisories, limited DOD losses, while portions of the Midwest and South-central states saw more than $100-million in property damage.

During the first major winter storm to strike the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Missouri, squadron forecasters delivered 36 heavy snow and freezing precipitation warnings providing customers ample lead time to plan threat mitigation.

"Because of the advance notice the 26th OWS forecasters gave affected base and post commanders," said Maj. Pat Williams, the flight commander of the 26th OWS, "they were able to take measures to cancel all flying operations and authorize the release of all non-essential personnel.

"Since ice weighs approximately 57 pounds per square foot it can have severe consequences when it amasses on buildings, power lines and tree limbs," he said. "But when enough advance warning is given to our operators in the field, catastrophe can be mitigated. In this case, due to the advanced warning, not a single aircraft was lost or damaged throughout the region due to winter weather."

This included aircraft and other resources at several international airports, such as those in Tulsa, Okla., St. Joseph and Jefferson City, Mo., which halted all incoming and departing aircraft due to the imminent winter-weather threat.

"We challenge our forecasters to be proactive, to maintain vigilance in order to identify the changing threat and then to communicate that threat to the fielded forces," said Lt. Col. Ron Comoglio, the commander of the 26th OWS. "It's extremely gratifying to see this approach taken to heart and to observe the resulting teamwork between our folks and those weather professionals at the wings and posts across our area of responsibility."

It's the OWS' ability to quickly analyze weather-related issues that enables customers to take the necessary preventive measures.

"First, we warn our base and post commanders of the impending adverse weather pattern developing through the region," Major Williams said. "Communication and coordination with base-level forecasters and on-site personnel is essential during this step. Coordination with stationed observers enables us to understand the current weather regime; providing our customers greater perceptions of incoming weather and associated impacts."

"Secondly, we educate new forecasters on these synoptic, or large-scale, weather patterns," the major said.

Airman Greg Sweeney, a senior weather forecaster, agrees. "Airmen at the 26th OWS issue successful products because they keep their forecasting skills sharp and stay vigilant. Preparation leads to success."

Overall this winter the squadron has issued over 3,200 total WWAs to help protect national defense assets and personnel.

"We support over 100,000 servicemen, women and their assets including aircraft, helicopters, refuel depots and training fields," Major Williams said. "Of note, the squadron has issued and verified over 70 freezing precipitation warnings and five tornado warnings for our DOD installations this winter."

As the pattern of strong weather regimes continues to press through the U.S., the 26th OWS' forecasters will continue to protect the nation's personnel, equipment and infrastructure located at bases and posts across the southeast.

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