Weather can be an unrelenting force and infamously fickle. Severe weather can adversely affect the safety of aircrew and Airmen working in the elements. Fortunately, advanced radars with weather forecasting capabilities can mitigate the associated risks.
Keeping constant surveillance on weather patterns and their potential hazards is an important step in enhancing readiness and safety of Airmen. Until recently, this often proved to be a challenge when local radars needed to undergo routine maintenance or upgrades.
Mountain Home Air Force Base is the first to show how Portable Doppler Radars, or PDRs, can be used to support continental United States operations to fix this problem.
Tech. Sgt. Brandon Knight, 366th Operation Support Squadron weather forecaster, said due to scheduled maintenance of the National Weather Service’s Next Generation Weather Radar, or NEXRAD, Mountain Home AFB would have been left without any weather forecasting capabilities, hindering the wing’s ability to maintain mission readiness.
Historically, May through July generate the most severe thunderstorms in Idaho, Knight explained. That is what made Mountain Home AFB officials push to find an innovative solution.
There are only two of these systems working in the United States, explained Staff. Sgt. Daniel Robinson, 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron weather systems trainer from Hurlburt Field, Florida.
“PDRs are typically used for deployments down-range,” Knight said. “Though we are finding that they can be used effectively for (continental United States) operations and the rest of the Air Force is following our lead.”
The Air Force intends to use Mountain Home AFB’s experience with PDRs as the building block for future use across the U.S., Knight explained.
Mountain Home AFB will be relying on the PDR for the next three weeks and sending the data to the Air Force and National Weather Service.
“The radar will allow us to see a radius of 60-80 nautical miles,” Knight said. “In that area, we can see incoming storms, rain data and wind fields, which can be interpreted to determine whether or not conditions are safe for flight.”
Knight went on to explain the overarching goal of implementing PDRs is ensuring continual safety management and 24/7 readiness. Additionally, allowing upgrades on NEXRAD mutually benefits the Air Force and public.
“We are making history,” Knight said. “(366th OSS) are continuing the legacy of innovation and leading the way. It is pretty exciting!”