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Is your organization ready for severe weather?

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 2011 severe weather season has gotten off to a roaring start. Every day we are seeing news reports of devastating tornadoes ripping through various parts of the country. As of May 24, there have already been 875 confirmed tornados touching down in the United States this year. An unprecedented number of outbreaks this spring has caused billions of dollars in damage and resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Even Colorado Springs has experienced a bout of severe weather as a "land spout tornado" caused damage to local property May 19 just southeast of Peterson AFB. These tornadoes are not uncommon in our area and differ from normal super cell tornadoes in that they develop from the ground up instead of dropping from the clouds and touching down.

With severe weather now in full swing across the country, how does the Peterson AFB Weather Flight prepare for and react to these situations and what actions should you take when severe weather threatens?

The 21st Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight is comprised of nine forecasters who work directly with the 25th Operational Weather Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., to collaborate on forecasts. The 25th OWS serves as the regional weather support unit for the western continental United States and provides weather watches and warnings for Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain AFS.

The 21st OSS Weather Flight serves as the "Eyes Forward" for the 25th OWS, providing up-to-the-minute updates on weather conditions effecting Colorado Springs. Forecasting the weather is a continuous process which involves combining real time weather data, such as satellite and radar imagery, along with computer generated weather model data to determine what, if any, weather threats will impact the Colorado Springs area.

If the Peterson AFB forecaster determines there is potential for severe weather, the first step is collaborating with the 25th OWS to decide what watches (which indicate potential) or warnings (which indicate expected occurrence) may need to be issued. If there is potential for severe weather, a weather watch may be issued for events such as damaging winds, large hail or tornadoes. During a period of potential severe weather, increased monitoring of satellite and radar data begins. The action starts when the potential for severe weather becomes imminent and a weather warning is issued.

The Weather Flight employs a severe weather action team comprised of seasoned forecasters who aid the duty forecaster in interrogating data, as well as managing the required weather watches and warnings. We also have a direct link to the National Weather Service's Doppler Radar at Pueblo, Colo. Many considerations go into issuing weather warnings. One forecaster manning the radar may see indications of severe weather moving towards Peterson AFB. Another forecaster may find storm reports of severe weather headed our way. The goal during these events is to be as thorough as possible to maximize resource and personnel protection and make sure the warnings are issued with sufficient time for base agencies and personnel to take any necessary action. The main thing to understand is that a weather warning means that the forecasted weather is now expected to occur on Peterson AFB or Cheyenne Mountain AFS during the valid times. Now, while all this is going on, how do you actually get the information you need and what do you do with it?

When a weather watch or warning is issued it is passed to the Peterson Installation Command Center. The PICC then relays the message to the 21st SW and Peterson mission partners, either by telephone or through the computer pop-up program. The Giant Voice is used to inform the base populace quickly if a tornado or lightning warning has been issued. The PICC can also direct personnel to shelter in place when severe weather threatens personnel safety.

Each facility manager on base maintains emergency action procedures in the event personnel have to evacuate or take cover. Many organizations have specific procedures to keep their personnel safe. The 21st SW Safety Office and unit safety officers are available to guide leaders and supervisors at all levels in developing severe weather procedures. The 21st OSS Weather Flight is also available to address any operational or safety concerns.

With this understanding of what goes into the issuance of weather watches and warnings, this would be a good time to review what to do in the event of severe weather, and make sure the personnel in your organization are ready in the event severe weather threatens.

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