Tinker Weather Flight always on alert, severe weather taken seriously

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Tinker Public Affairs
When it comes to severe weather, every second counts.

That's why Tinker's severe weather alarm rang out at 12:30 a.m. May 8. Though nighttime tornadoes are rare, officials determined that a tornado was possible within 5 nautical miles of the base. Knowing families were sleeping, they decided to sound the alarm.

According to Tech. Sgt. Cecil Anderson, NCOIC of the 72nd Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight, base weather forecasters assess the atmosphere and keep in touch with the National Weather Service, and monitor local media, along with storm chaser reports, to determine when and if the alarms need to be sounded.

Within the Weather Flight, the Severe Weather Action Person (SWAP) monitors the weather situation and each particular storm and helps make the prediction and helps determine the need to push the siren. Sergeant Anderson said each SWAP on the team has on average 10 to 15 years of experience.

1st Lt. Casey Neuville, 72nd Operations Support Squadron Wing Weather Officer, was the SWAP that evening and weighed in to sound the alarm.

"Protecting our resources is our No. 1 priority," he said. "People are, of course, the Air Force's top resource."

According to Lieutenant Neuville, the governing authority for weather watches and warnings is the 26th Operations Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
"Weather is a prediction, so agreement is not always there between Tinker and Barksdale," the lieutenant said. "But through collaboration, we strive to make sure the best operational weather decision is made."

Sergeant Anderson said the 26th Operational Weather Squadron analyzes radar and satellite, while Tinker provides the eyes forward perspective on developing weather.
"Weather operations is a 24 hour business," said Lieutenant Neuville. "A Terminal Aerodome Forecast is built every eight hours to keep the customer abreast."

The base has different criteria for issuing a tornado warning than the off-base media. According to Lieutenant Neuville, the local communities may not issue a tornado warning, but if the situation is progressing and it looks like something could happen, the base will issue a warning to be safe and to protect base personnel and equipment.

Local media will issue watches and warnings according to an entire county, while Tinker is primarily concerned within 5 nautical miles of the airfield center, said Lieutenant Neuville.

"Any storm has the potential to turn severe and possibly produce a tornado, and it can happen anytime," Sergeant Anderson said.

When a warning is issued, in addition to the sirens going off, AtHoc kicks in and puts a desktop alert on every computer screen on base. AtHoc, a network centric emergency mass notification system, can even send text messages to cell phone, make phone calls and emails.

According to Lieutenant Neuville, the weather flight can issue an AtHoc message without first calling the command post, only for a Tornado Warning.

"All AtHoc messages are pre-canned and standardized so that there is no hesitation when it needs to be sent," said Master Sgt. Harley.

On the night in question, the potential was there for a tornado and base weather officials weren't taking any chances.

"The atmosphere is always in a state of chaos," said Lieutenant Neuville. That is definitely true of Oklahoma weather.

To sign up for severe weather text messages, base personnel need to update their information in AtHoc by clicking on the purple globe in lower right corner of computer screen and select "Update My Info."