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Rain or shine, weater affects missions

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- No matter where we are or what  the season, weather affects the 446th Airlift Wing’s daily activities. To keep Reservists up-to-date on weather situations, McChord’s 62nd Operational Support Squadron’s eight-person team works around the clock. 

“We provide and support all weather-related operations for the entire base,” said Capt. Mark Barbire, chief of the weather shop. ”We also provide a mission execution forecast to each aircrew before flying. In this forecast we will predict significant icing, turbulence, clouds and wind speed/direction for the entire route that will be flown.” 

The team does this with the FMQ-19. It has three different stations on the airfield to record temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction, visibility, sensible weather (precipitation), cloud heights and several other weather parameters. They also have the TMQ-53 which is a tactical version of the FMQ-19 that can be taken anywhere we go. If those systems were to fail, they have a backup called the Kestrel 4000. It is a handheld piece of equipment that fits in a pocket and provides the observer with the essential weather readings. 

“Fog is the biggest issue here,” said Captain Barbire. “We average 163 days a year with visibility less than seven miles. Most of those days come in the months of October through February. On any given day, there is a 66 percent chance of reduced visibility during those months.” 

For pilots, receiving the weather report can make a big difference. Before flying a mission, pilots check the weather minimums for departures and arrivals, and the en route weather to check for thunderstorms, or rain and snow showers. Pilots also check for unusual weather like micro bursts, virga, and volcanic dust. 

“It gives you an indication of whether you will be able to accomplish the mission or not,” said 1st Lt. Jennifer Henderson, 728th Airlift Squadron. “You need to know what the weather will be like in order to get to your destination, and then once you are there, be able to land safely.” 

One of the greatest things about the C-17A is that it can fly in almost any kind of weather. However, certain things will bring op-erations to a halt. 

“Freezing rain will stop all ground movement. Also wind speeds greater than 50 knots, fog below a 1/4 mile and light-ning will cancel most flying,” said Captain Barbire. “Whenever we are predicting any sort of freezing precipitation to occur its a big issue. The past two snow events put the spotlight on us. It is important that our forecast is accurate so the wing and group commanders can have enough time to make critical decision to reduce the impacts to the mission, and ensure the safety of all of the base populace.” 

However, the operations groups aren’t the only ones affected by the weather. The weather shop also supplies weather to the air traffic control tower, command post, base operations, maintenance, the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, civic engineer snow removal, the golf course and any other base agency who requests it. 

“For our security forces mission, the primary concerns on weather deal with needing to know if it’s going to affect public safety,” said Master Sgt. Lyndon Deboma, operations manager for the 446th Security Forces Squadron. “Examples would be black ice on the roadways, thick fog, heavy rains or flood watches.” 

The information would be sent to the security forces supervisors, patrols and gates, so they’re aware of what’s going on and be bet-ter prepared to handle any weather-related public safety issues immediately. 

“When I was on active duty in the United Kingdom, working with higher priority assets, I would call weather from my control center to find out how long the fog would be lingering,” said Sergeant Deboma. “This is because we would have to post out additional manpower to cover areas where we would no longer have visibility. But again, at McChord, the main concern is if it is going to nega-tively impact public safety.” 

No matter where we are or what the season, weather affects the 446th Airlift Wing’s daily activities. Each agency uses weather in a different way to safely complete the mission and keep 446th Airlift Wing Reservists safe.