Forecast bright, sunny for weather squadron

Staff Sgt. Brad Snyder, 30th Weather Squadron, fills a weather balloon with helium at the balloon facility on Vandenberg.  The balloons travel to a height of more than 110,000 feet before exploding and sending the attached global positioning system gliding back to earth via a small parachute.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Staff Sgt. Brad Snyder, 30th Weather Squadron, fills a weather balloon with helium at the balloon facility on Vandenberg. The balloons travel to a height of more than 110,000 feet before exploding and sending the attached global positioning system gliding back to earth via a small parachute. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Tech Sgt. John David Gasa, 30th Weather Squadron, runs down checklists during mock launch preparations.  The weather squadron uses its 279 weather sensors to determine whether launch restraints for weather have been broken or not.  They will then make a recommendation to the launch commander on whether or not to launch.  The launch commander has final authority for launches.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Tech Sgt. John David Gasa, 30th Weather Squadron, runs down checklists during mock launch preparations. The weather squadron uses its 279 weather sensors to determine whether launch restraints for weather have been broken or not. They will then make a recommendation to the launch commander on whether or not to launch. The launch commander has final authority for launches. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Staff Sgt. Brad Snyder, 30th Weather Squadron, attaches a parachute to the radiosonde which is then attached to a weather balloon at the balloon facility on Vandenberg.  The balloons travel to a height of more than 110,000 feet before exploding and sending the attached global positioning system gliding back to earth via the small parachute.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Staff Sgt. Brad Snyder, 30th Weather Squadron, attaches a parachute to the radiosonde which is then attached to a weather balloon at the balloon facility on Vandenberg. The balloons travel to a height of more than 110,000 feet before exploding and sending the attached global positioning system gliding back to earth via the small parachute. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Tech. Sgt. John David Gasa, 30th Weather Squadron, reviews data from one of the many displays in the 30th WS Weather Operations Center.  The WOC is a 24-hour operation, monitoring Vandenberg's weather with its 279 weather sensors.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Tech. Sgt. John David Gasa, 30th Weather Squadron, reviews data from one of the many displays in the 30th WS Weather Operations Center. The WOC is a 24-hour operation, monitoring Vandenberg's weather with its 279 weather sensors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In the fiery display of a rocket lifting off from its temporary land-based home, the day-to-day operations prior to that spectacular site sometimes get lost in the mix.

Prior to lift-off, rocket scientists, technicians, logisticians, and the many others are hard at work planning, fixing and tweaking every last detail.

One group that works quietly in the background is the many Airmen, civilians and contractors in the 30th Weather Squadron.

A unit with a varied history of activations and deactivations in countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Guam, the 30th WS's Vandenberg incarnation offers its members a unique and intense mission.

The 30th WS has 279 separate weather sensors to monitor weather conditions across Vandenberg's more than 99,000 acres.

"Our 279 sensors keep us well informed on the weather in and around the base." said Maj. Joe Kurtz, 30th WS director of operations.

A 24-hour operation, the 30th WS's range forecasters have the ability to offer up-to-the-minute weather information using the Advanced Weather Interactive Production Systems, or AWIPS.

AWIPS is an interactive computer system that integrates local and global meteorological and hydrological data, along with satellite and radar images which enables 30th WS range forecasters to prepare and issue highly accurate and timely forecasts and warnings.

"We can pull up current atmospheric soundings from weather balloons around the world and compare it to soundings from 24 hours ago to determine how the atmosphere is changing and better predict what will occur in the near-term future," said Tech. Sgt. John David Gasa, 30th WS NCO in charge of weather operations. "This allows us to make the best forecast possible."

"Vandenberg and Patrick are the only weather stations in the Air Force that have AWIPS, since it is a National Weather Service system," he added.

These technical advantages help range forecasters provide the best information available during launch preparations and countdowns.

"We provide cradle-to-grave support," said 2nd Lt. Shenna Storr, 30th WS launch weather officer, "from booster transport and fueling procedures, to the actual countdown itself."

Launch preparation for the 30th WS begins 30 to 60 days in advance of a launch. This includes rehearsals, reviewing documents, creating briefings and schedules, and assembling the launch weather team.

"We look at model data and climatology, which gives us a rough idea of how weather conditions will be during the launch," Lieutenant Storr said.

The 30th WS is not afraid to be the bearer of bad news if the weather is not favorable for the launch.

"When we give the wing and launch agency a probability of violating weather constraints, we are very confident with the recommendation we give; and it is not bad news, it is the course of action that keeps the mission safe," Lieutenant Storr added.

Despite the ever present Vandenberg fog, the most common launch inhibitor is the wind.

Vandenberg's rough terrain creates a unique wind flow pattern on different parts of the base. This makes it tricky to forecast winds at launch time.

"There could be little to no wind on parts of north base and 30-knot winds at the (launch) pad on south base, especially Space Launch Complex-6," Major Kurtz said.
The forecasters at the 30th WS are a major part of the launch process; however, they are humble about their efforts when asked.

"The 30th WS is just a small piece of the huge puzzle that goes into a launch," Sergeant Gasa said. "For our part, it is a team effort to determine the launch forecast and not just one person who makes a go or no-go decision at launch time."