Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

What to do when severe weather threatens

by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Willems

21st Operations Support Squadron

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — As we move through spring and into the summer months along the Front Range the possibility of severe weather at Peterson AFB dramatically increases. In July of 2009 a funnel cloud was observed moving toward us, a weather warning was issued and the command post directed all personnel to shelter in place. In May of this year severe winds caused damage to facilities, buildings were evacuated and personnel were directed to seek shelter.

Fortunately, no one was injured during these major weather events, but ask yourself, do you know what actions to take in the event of severe weather? So what do you do when a weather “pop-up” from the command post displays on your computer? Do you ignore it and delete it? This article will explain the process of how the “pop-up” makes its way from the Peterson forecaster to your monitor and the importance understanding the text displayed on it.

The 21st Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight works with the 25th Operational Weather Squadron, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. It serves as the regional weather support unit for the western continental United States, providing weather watches and warnings for Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. These forecasted and observed messages, also known as “pop-ups,” provide leaders at all levels with information about weather events that could impact operations on base, as well as cause damage to facilities and assets, or injure personnel. We’ve all seen the pop-ups on our government computers telling us about a weather watch that has been issued for Peterson AFB, for potential lightning or a weather warning for damaging winds of 50 knots or greater. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a weather watch and a warning?

A weather watch is issued when potential exists for severe weather. The key word here is potential. A weather watch is issued early in the day, or even the day before a weather event is forecast to occur. It is intended to give the base populace and leadership ample time to take any actions appropriate to protect themselves and assets. When the event becomes imminent, the watch will be upgraded to a weather warning.

Weather watch criteria and desired lead times for Peterson AFB are:

n Lightning potential within five miles of the base 30 minutes

nTornado As potential warrants

n 50 knot (58 mph) surface winds As potential warrants

n Hail > ¾” As potential warrants

n Freezing precipitation As potential warrants

n Heavy rain: > 2” in 12 hours As potential warrants

n Heavy snow: > 2” in 12 hours As potential warrants

n Blizzard conditions As potential warrants

A weather warning is issued when moderate or severe weather criteria are observed or imminent. It is intended to warn personnel and leadership that adverse conditions exist and to protect equipment and/or seek shelter immediately. Forecasted weather warnings are issued just before the event is expected to begin occurring at Peterson AFB, providing lead time for decision makers to protect assets and personnel. Observed weather warnings are issued to inform personnel and leaders that the event is happening now.

Weather warning criteria and desired lead times for Peterson AFB are:

n Tornado 10 minutes

n 50 knot (58 mph) surface winds 60 minutes

n 35 to 49 knot (40 to 56 mph) surface winds 60 minutes

n Hail > ¾” 60 minutes

nHail ½” < ¾” 60 minutes

n Freezing precipitation 90 minutes

n Heavy rain: 2” in 12 hours 90 minutes

n Heavy snow: 2” in 12 hours 90 minutes

n Blizzard conditions 90 minutes

When a weather watch or warning is issued it is passed to the Peterson Installation Command Center. The PICC then disseminates the message to the 21st SW and Peterson mission partners directly by telephone or with the 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 shelter in place. Many organizations have specific procedures to mitigate weather effects on their operations and to keep 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, and the 21st OSS Weather Flight is available to address any operational or safety concerns.

As severe weather season approaches, now may be a good time to review your procedures and make sure personnel in your organization are ready.

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