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By Erica Blanton, Staff Writer, 21st Space Wing
/ Published February 12, 2020
1st Lt. Travis Hodos, 21st Operations Support Squadron weather flight commander, and Master Sgt. Jonathon Winston, 21st OSS weather flight chief, analyze weather forecasts, Jan. 5, 2020 in anticipation of a snow call on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The 10-person weather flight monitors weather conditions around the clock to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to base leadership. (U.S. Air Force photo by Erica Blanton)
Winter in Colorado Springs, especially if you are new to the area, can be frustrating. It can be snowing in one area of the city, while the sun is shining bright in another. So, how does base leadership decide whether or not you go to work? A snow call!
The process starts two to three days prior to expected weather when the 21st Operations Support Squadron weather flight forecasts a potential for hazardous weather conditions. Information like precipitation, temperature and wind speeds are recorded and analyzed before submitting an official weather statement to base leadership. However, weather forecasts change rapidly in Colorado.
“Mountains throw a wrench in every forecast,” said MSgt Jonathon Winston, 21 OSS Weather Flight Chief. “Depending on the system, if it’s coming from the north or south, that can change expectations on snow accumulation. You won’t know until a day out if you’re going to get one inch or three inches, so you really have to pay attention.”
If a forecast calls for two inches or more, the weather flight notifies the 21st Mission Support Group who then determines if a snow call is necessary. Snow calls are used to evaluate if there needs to be a phased early release, base closure, or normal reporting. Early release is determined by current weather conditions, whereas delayed reporting is typically decided the morning of by 4:15 a.m., or as forecasts evolve.
“There is a group text between the Mission Support Groups for USAFA, Peterson, Schriever, and Fort Carson,” said Lt. Col. Michael Brannon, 21st MSG deputy commander. “We share updates on conditions at each of the Front Range installations and current leadership recommendations on early release, delays, or closures.”
Once they make a determination and a time for the snow call is decided, the Colorado Springs Regional Command Post is notified and they coordinate with weather, the 21st MSG, the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, 21st OSS flightline ops, a 21st MSG representative from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and Public Affairs.
“Our team runs 24/7/365,” said Staff Sgt. Evan Hopkins, emergency actions controller, CSRCP. “As soon as we find out about the possibility of a snow call, we notify the participants as quickly as we can so that everyone, on- and off-base, has time to apply safe risk management processes.”
An important component of safe risk management includes road conditions. Up-to-date information is provided by patrols on surrounding military installations, city and state police services, as well as the 21st CES. CE continuously evaluates road conditions on base to collect information on what snow accumulations they are seeing, how the crews are keeping up with removal, and if the roads are icy, passable, or clear. They also provide a timeframe for how long it will take them to safely clear the roads and most of the parking lots.
Conditions off-base are also taken into account as well. The 21st Space Wing Public Affairs representative provides information on citywide closures and delays of businesses, military installations, and schools. They are also responsible for notifying media outlets, updating base social media platforms and the snow line on base reporting status.
“Most important is gathering all the available information from a team of experts tasked with monitoring things like weather forecasts, road conditions, school closures, timing of the snow and other factors,” said Col. Thomas Falzarano, 21st SW commander. “Armed with that information we have to make the best possible decision for the safety of our base population and, equally as important, ensure our numerous no fail missions continue uninterrupted.”
After all information is gathered, the participants make a recommendation to base leadership. Conditions on Peterson and CMAFS, as well as the entire community, are taken into account when deciding on how to best proceed to ensure people are able to get where they need to as safely as possible.
And that is how a snow call is done! To stay up to date on all base information, including snow call procedures, sign up for AtHoc notifications, download the Air Force Connect app, and follow Peterson Air Force Base on Facebook and Twitter.