Weather squadron responds to severe weather challenge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. LuCelia Ball
  • 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Hurricane Gustav avoided Florida, but the community still saw some extreme weather as a result. Personnel from the 46th Weather Squadron issued advisories, watches and warnings for seven tornadic events Sept. 1, which helped the base batten the hatches.

The day started out with a forecaster working her usual shift using radar to observe the incoming thunderstorms. Her normal shift consisted of forecasting for the entire Eglin Range Complex.

Once the duty forecaster became aware of the threat, she activated the Severe Weather Action Team which consisted of standby personnel. Their role is to assist with the radar and satellite analysis as well as answer phone calls and aircraft radios.

Early that morning, air traffic controllers saw the first of three funnel clouds emerge from the storm's feeder bands that raked Northwest Florida. Rain and winds gusting to more than 40 miles per hour pelted the area starting in the early morning hours. The controllers watched as the first funnel touched down on the runway and then skirted through base housing, causing damage along the way.

"We anticipated some heavy activity being located just on the fringe of Hurricane Gustav," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Kowal, 46th Combat Weather Flight NCOIC. "For several hours, we were under the influences of a feeder band that produced several thunderstorm cells."

"These cells were very fast movers," said Staff Sgt. Laci Burgess, 46th WS weather forecaster. "The radar formed what we call a tornadic vortex signature. This indicates that there is rotation in the storm cell and could form a tornado. Our next action was to issue an advisory, a watch or a warning, to the base personnel."

"It's important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning," said Lt Col Tamara Parsons, 46th Weather Squadron Commander.

TORNADO WATCH: Tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms.

TORNADO WARNING: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

The 46th WS provides weather information to many supported agencies, including flying units responsible for aircraft, and the rest of the base populace. The weather watches and warnings were provided through the Improved Weather Dissemination System and the New Tactical Forecast System.

"The watches and warnings went to subscribers of IWDS and to the command post, which got the information out to the community," said Sergeant Kowal.

The operations weather flight was assisted by people in the air traffic control tower as well as weather observers in a weather tower located between Eglin's two runways.

"The weather observers have a 360-degree line of sight out there, so it was helpful for us to have a visual to go along with our radar data," said Sergeant Kowal.

The operations weather flight was assisted by air traffic controllers in the Eglin control tower as well as weather observers in a weather tower located between Eglin's two runways through a Cooperative Weather Watch Program.

Once the tornado warnings were issued, the tornado siren sounded on base 10 to 15 minutes before the tornado was estimated to touch down, giving workers and residents a chance to shelter from the storm.

Some damage was reported afterward, mainly to vehicles and some roof and playground damage at the child development center, but no injuries occurred.

"The lead time we get on letting the public know about these events is essential to the safety of the community," said Sergeant Kowal.

(Lois Walsh, 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)