Feb. 24, 2010

Forecasting the weather with the Virginia Air National Guard

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — When the Virginia National Guard has a weather-related state emergency it calls on the expertise of the internal weather forecasters from the Virginia Air National Guard. The 200th Weather Flight, based out of Sandston, is a unit of Airmen trained to track weather systems and provide real-time and projected forecasts to operational units throughout the Virginia Guard.

 

Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Gamache and Senior Airman Christopher Tuck track weather systems moving across Virginia during the snow storms that ravaged the region in February 2010. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

During the winter snow storms that plagued the commonwealth in the early months of 2010, the weather flight was busy day and night providing intelligence to the Joint Operation Center by working in 12-hour shifts with a 30-minute overlap, according to Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Gamache, a meteorological technician with the 200th Weather Flight.

The unit is staffed with 20 meteorologists who can accurately access the weather and provide forecasts to any number of audiences using various methods to track and predict weather systems across the globe.

"We provide ground forecasts, aviation forecasts, impact to personnel and snow total forecasting for the entire state," said Gamache. "We acquire weather information through a myriad of different avenues. During a hurricane, by federal law, we are required to use National Hurricane Center products. In a lot of cases, especially on a state mission, we’re required to use National Weather Service products as baseline forecasts."

While tracking the weather during the snow storms in early February, the weather flight was instrumental in providing the JOC with critical information that helped the Guard make decisions to keep vehicles in place to assist citizens in Northern Virginia.

"Virginia Department of Emergency Management wanted to redirect some of [the Guard's] bigger vehicles from north to south, but our forecast was for pretty significant snowfall up there," he said. "Based on our forecast, the [joint] staff said, 'let's keep the vehicles in place' and because of that after the storm dumped most of its snow, they were positioned in place."

"They sent the big movers up and down the main thoroughfares and were providing real-time rescue and recovery of stranded vehicles and civilian personnel."

In addition to supporting the Guard during state active-duty missions, the weather flight also provides its expertise to many other customers throughout the Guard and around the country and the world.

"We have personnel deployed down range to Iraq. Concurrently, we've got folks deployed to March Air Force Base supporting remotely piloted aircraft missions, as well as one in Nebraska," Gamache said.

"I went to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, to an international forces base there," said Senior Airman Christopher Tuck, a combat weather forecaster recently back from an overseas deployment. "It was 24-hour operations and we saw everything from thunderstorms and 55 mile per hour gusts that came out of nowhere, dust fronts and snow storms."

"We really encompassed every type of weather imaginable there."

They have already been tasked to support the Boy Scout Jamboree, Irish Heat (a National Guard preparedness exercise) and the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment's annual training later this year.

"For a week period, I've got three different missions going just within the unit," said Gamache. "Plus we've got to keep the weather flight operational for state level missions."

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