Let's talk about the weather

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Severe Weather Awareness Week begins Monday.

Whether we realize it or not, the weather affects every aspect of our lives. It can direct how we choose to dress each day, where we live or vacation, and how we prepare and respond to emergencies or disasters throughout the year.

Georgia's Severe Weather Awareness Week provides an opportunity for everyone to become educated about the weather, what to do in the event of inclement weather and to become better informed about protecting themselves and their neighbors.

Robins weather
At Robins, when there's a possibility for severe weather, a team of a dozen forecasters and observers in the 78th Operations Support Squadron's Weather Flight closely monitors everything from temperature, winds and tornadoes, snow, freezing precipitation and lightning. 

"There's nothing weather doesn't impact during the course of the day," said Roddy Nixon, lead forecaster. "Whether it's freezing temperatures, a particular phenomenon or the heat index, weather touches everything from the flight line to the child development centers."  

If you've lived in Middle Georgia a number of years, you may recall significant weather-related events that have taken place with flooding, tornadoes and thunderstorms.

Take last weekend for example when snow fell in parts of Georgia ahead of a massive winter storm that impacted parts of the eastern U.S., including Middle Georgia. 

Recorded observations at Robins included snow flurries as anticipated during the overnight hours and early morning of Jan. 23, with winds Saturday reaching a maximum gust of 35 mph. Low temperatures Saturday morning reached 30 degrees with an afternoon high of 37 degrees.

Behind the scenes
Admit it. Sometimes there's some grumbling when the weather doesn't cooperate, or it rains or doesn't rain when things turn out differently. It's just Mother Nature. 

"We can see all these parameters that come into play. For example, a simple shift in winds can be the deciding factor whether a particular scenario takes place or not," said Nixon, who has worked in the weather career field for 30 years. "We have to constantly monitor that and make changes in our forecasts. There are many variables the public never sees." 

Back to last week's wintry conditions, the Weather Flight monitored conditions for some time, using Doppler radar, satellite imagery, a lightning sensor in the field and two additional sensors that assess cloud height, winds and visibility. Temperature is also closely monitored since the closer it gets to freezing, the more likelihood of a freezing/winter scenario.

"There are so many different variables going on that make severe weather forecasting interesting and challenging at the same time," he said. 

Another critical element forecasters in the flight use is sky observation. Simply taking a look above the flight line across various cloud types in the atmosphere can tell the story. One particular cloud type was apparent during the late afternoon hours of Jan. 22 - the cumulonimbus, the only cloud capable of producing a thunderstorm, according to Nixon.

Winds could be felt turning to the west, indicating a cold front was getting closer as it moved through the area. And as it did so, temperatures began to drop overnight, reaching into the low 30s. 

The clouds told a story as observers looked to the east where clouds extended and flattened out a little more than those to the west. 

As colder air moved in, it eroded those same clouds since colder air is less dense. 

Particular attention is always paid on days such as those last week. Severe weather can impact not only employees traveling in Middle Georgia, but also those who commute here from the southern Atlanta metro area, where ice and snow conditions were expected last weekend.

Mission impact and awareness
Paying close attention to the weather is crucial, as that accountability impacts more than 20,000 lives on the installation, and millions of dollars in assets including aircraft, equipment and infrastructure.  

"It's an awesome responsibility," said Nixon. "There's a lot of responsibility and pride that goes with what our guys do." 

Every team member in the flight is dual certified and trained to provide meteorological support anywhere as needed - a unique facet compared to colleagues who work elsewhere who may not get exposure to a variety of weather systems.  

A unique Robins capability is its Doppler radar that allows the flight's flexibility to look at all radar sites. Real-time data can be provided for aircraft travelling to other states, enabling missions to continue. 

Warnings, watches and advisories originating from the flight are Robins specific. 

This is different from what you might receive from local media, as those are received from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga. 

Robins issues specific lightning warnings, while the NWS does not.

Military members can receive countless assignments throughout their careers, experiencing a vast array of weather phenomenon. 

Airman 1st Class Johnathon Harry, 20, has been at Robins for about seven months, learning to become certified in weather forecasting. 

"You never think about how big winds play a part in resource protection," the Mississippi native said. "When I came here, I realized that dangerous winds happen more often than you think. In this career field you get something new every day." 

Weather on base effects various mission requirements. There's the 78th Civil Engineer Group that's responsible for facilities on base. If an advisory is issued for freezing temperatures, personnel can take action on systems that may require additional maintenance and protection. 

Then there are safety concerns on the flight line. 

The Weather Flight can issue an airframe frost advisory which can let decision makers know if temperatures are ripe for frost concerns. 

If so, work can be curtailed on an aircraft's wing, tail or engine, for example. 

Also, if it gets a little too windy, part of the mission could be briefly suspended for safety reasons. 

Another example using a C-5 or C-17, there are times when personnel must use lifts to reach a certain point on the aircraft. If winds are in excess of 20 knots, that lift could become unstable. 

Test pilots also receive and share crucial data in order to make decisions before leaving base or during a functional check flight. 

The last major weather event to happen on base was in January 2014. Forecasted as a winter mix, there was a cold rain on site with ice pellets but with no snow accumulation. 

Throughout the year you will see the weather flight providing awareness and education at Robins and throughout the community, also encouraging young people toward a career in meteorology.

"It's a challenging career field in that no two days are ever the same," said Nixon. "There's a facet of the job that keeps you honest and humble every day."