Weather flight runs circles around twister

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Crissy Keeley
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The 78th Operations Support Squadron's weather flight team had a chance to prove this past week why they were recently selected as AFMC's Outstanding Weather Unit of the Year.

The team of meteorologists was able to witness Mother Nature's fury first-hand when a tornado touched down a mile east of the base.

"Severe weather had been ongoing with this system for hours and numerous reports of damage had been received," said Roddy Nixon Jr., senior meteorologist. "Multiple tornado reports had (also) been received as well as reports of hail to the size of baseballs."

The weather flight had been preparing for the twister much of the day. It began with their morning "metcon" -- short for "meteorological condition" in which the forecasters use each other's expertise in evaluating the current weather situation to come up with their weather "game-plan" so to speak. On this particular Wednesday morning, all eyes were focused on a major storm system that was migrating into the southeastern U.S.

The system showed a strong potential for severe weather and demonstrated a phenomenon weather forecasters refer to as the "Triple-point," an intersection point for frontal boundaries where severe weather development is favored.

Throughout the morning, senior meteorologists Kevin Turner and Mr. Nixon continued to monitor the radar, satellite imagery, wind profiles, storm reports, and other key information related to the system. As a precaution, they decided to issue a weather watch shortly after 9 a.m. for the potential of damaging thunderstorm winds.

As the afternoon progressed, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Turner observed that the storms produced by the system were intensifying. They promptly provided an update on the increasingly dangerous situation to the base leadership. By 3 p.m. the reinforcements were called in.

SWAT, or Severe Weather Action Team consisting of 1st Lt. Jason Scalzitti, weather officer; Tech. Sgt. Brad Godwin, weather flight NCO in charge; and Senior Airman Stephanie Rodriguez, weather forecaster, helped monitor the storm system. The team focused its attention on the storm as it pursued a dangerous track across west central Georgia.

At 5 p.m., the team determined the imminent threat of severe weather for Robins. "Damaging winds greater than 60 mph and large hail were anticipated, thus a severe thunderstorm warning was issued," Sergeant Godwin said. "By 5:30 p.m., the storm had produced a series of funnel clouds and tornadoes as it advanced across Taylor, Macon, and western Peach counties."

On the flightline, just outside the base weather station, skies were becoming "dark and ominous."

"The skies to the southwest of the base had that look," said Mr. Nixon. "The ante was being raised; there was little doubt that this one would be extremely dangerous."

According to Mr. Nixon, as 6 p.m. approached, the cloud base about seven miles west-southwest of Robins had definitely taken on the classic "funnel" cloud configuration. Doppler radar continued to reflect strong rotation in the storm and the team facilitated the issuance of a tornado warning at 6:19 p.m. and the installation sirens were sounded.

Thirty minutes later all warnings were cancelled, but the weather team continued to closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety of the people and resources on base.

Lt. Col. Matt Hoose, 78th OSS commander, was impress-ed after witnessing the team in action.

"The weather flight displayed immense skill, professionalism, and courage in reporting the dangerous conditions," he said. "As I proudly observed these men and women do what they do, it was clear why they are the best and why they truly epitomize the concepts of service before self and excellence in all we do."

Although this storm has passed, the weather office warns that Robins hasn't seen the last big storm of 2009.

"This game is not over by any means," said Lieutenant Scalzitti. "We must remain ready at a moment's notice. Rest assured the weather flight will be ready if and when Mother Nature desires to once more unleash her fury."