July 20, 2009

Virginia Air Guard unit watches weather for Patriot

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT MCCOY, Wisc. — You can gather all the news you need from the weather report, according to Simon & Garfunkel, and that's the idea behind the Virginia Air Guard's Sandston-based 200th Weather Flight, currently attached to the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment.

  200th Weather Flight

Senior Airman J.C. Clark, a combat Weather Technician with the Virginia Air National Guard's 200th Weather Flight, gathers weather information from a Kestral handheld weather sensing system at McCoy Airfield during annual training at Fort McCoy, Wisc. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) 

Both Virginia units are here participating in exercise Global Patriot, a joint coalition exercise bringing together Guard units from five states and units from Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands through July 23 during their two week annual training. The 200th Weather Flight is supporting the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade by providing up to the minute updates on the local weather.

The team of 11 Airmen is working in consecutive eight-hour shifts with two men on each shift to monitor the weather and is available around the clock to provide reports to pilots and commanders, said Senior Airman J.C. Clark, a combat weather technician.

At the beginning of the shifts, the Airmen brief the incoming shift of what happened during the previous shift. Following the update, the Airmen continue their hourly observations and look for potential flight risks such as wind, turbulence, or ice during the winter.

They continue to provide weather updates to the pilots as they request them throughout the day, said Clark.

"It is our job to monitor the weather and provide them with the forecasts ahead of time, so they know what to expect," said Air Force Maj. Jeff Leising, 200th Weather Flight commander. "We can provide them the actual warnings when things are either occurring or are imminent.

While at Fort McCoy, the Airmen of the 200th Weather Flight are using a weather sensor that is a part of the airfield, but while at home or deployed, they have a tactical weather sensing system that can set up almost anywhere in the world.

"We have equipment that can pretty much go anywhere in the world and set up our weather sensing equipment," said Leising.

In addition to the weather sensing systems they have both here and at home, the team can pull information directly from the National Weather Service and from a satellite through high-tech computer systems to help accurately predict the weather.

"We've got the ability to pull data  directly off the satellite, so we can pretty much go anywhere in the world and get weather data, and upper air data, and look at things that are upstream from us and see what's coming and then analyze the atmosphere and do our forecasts," said Leising.

Providing accurate weather information to pilots is not the only important role of the Weather Flight. They can also provide real time weather updates to company commanders here performing Warrior Training Tasks such as individual weapons qualification.

"If you've got folks out on the ranges, and you've got some thunderstorms rolling in, we put out the warning on that and it gives them enough time to recover out of the area and do what they need to do to get out of the line of fire," he said. "In case of thunderstorms, lightning, high winds, hail or potentially tornadoes."

With the fair weather the units have been experiencing during Global Patriot some of the weather technicians have been feeling a little frustrated.

"I personally like bad weather, so I've been disappointed with the lack of bad weather," said Clark. "It has been pretty slow, but I'm sure the pilots have been pretty pleased."

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