Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Air Force Academy Spirit

Academy forecasters keep eyes out for twisters

By Ann Patton

Academy Spirit staff


The touchdown June 15 of two large, dangerous funnel clouds in Elbert County serves as a serious reminder that tornado season is here.

Skip Evans, chief meteorologist with the Academy weather station, said  tornado season runs roughly from April through September.

The eight-member team of weather experts at the station keeps close tabs on developing weather conditions which may produce severe weather conditions, including tornadoes, lightning and severe thunderstorms, from early spring into the fall.

Mr. Evans said the Academy receives about two serious funnel cloud threats a year, and the season is shaping up to be an active one. The Elbert tornadoes, a mere 18 miles from the Academy, were one such threat.

From 1995 to 2008 El Paso County experienced 17 tornado touchdowns.

“It’s unusual but not impossible,” he said about the possibility of a twister reaching ground on the Academy and pointed out Divide, Colo., and 11 Mile Reservoir both had touchdowns last year.

The Academy weather station, a part of the 306th Flying Training Group, regularly works in conjunction with the Air Force’s 25th Operational Weather Squadron at Davis-Montham Air Force Base, Ariz. Plus, if the 15th OWS spots severe weather on its way around the Academy outside  regular weather station hours, the unit notifies Academy meteorologists, who are on-call 24/7.

“We live up against the mountains, and mountain weather is notorious for changing rapidly, Mr. Evans said.

Meteorologist Dave Palumbo, who has been at the Academy for eight years, said the station has a heavy buy-in for being part of the safety process.

“We are very, very committed to keeping people as safe as possible,” he said.

Every morning weather station staff begins monitoring the atmosphere and environment. By 9 a.m., if conditions show a valid potential for severe weather development and instability, the station will issue a weather “watch.”

If conditions continue to worsen and become threatening, the station then issues a “warning.”

The 10th Air Base Wing is responsible for issuing severe weather information to the base through such resources as Giant Voice, telephone and e-mails.

Academy forecasters, who are enjoying a station upgrade  use detection tools from the simple to the sophisticated, including ground reports, satellite reports and statistics, radar, dialogue with other weather professionals, Doppler radar from the National Weather Service station in northeast Pueblo County, and no fewer than three computer modeling software programs. The station also has access to computer data on lightning.

“We use everything we can get our hands on,” Mr. Evans said.

In addition, the forecasters receive data from 12 monitoring stations scattered on the Academy.

Tornadoes develop in mega storms with continuous and steady growth. When there is a collision of unstable updrafts and downdrafts, a funnel of vertical or horizontal rotating air results.

Weather forecasting has come a long way. Computer modeling, satellites and Doppler radar have contributed heavily to improvements in forecasting over the last few decades.

At one time the largest computer in the world was a weather computer, Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Palumbo said meteorology is a confluence of art and science. The interpretation of computer symbols and visual images changes within computer models and those who interpret them.

Forecasting can be an exciting profession. Like Mother Nature herself, nothing is ever the same.

“There is a different challenge every single day,” Mr. Evans said.

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