Behind the Lines: Early Weather Warnings Critical at Robins

6:25 PM, Sep 26, 2013   |    comments
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You hear it from 13WMAZ meteorologists regularly -- early warnings for severe weather save lives.

That also applies to forecasters who work to protect people and property at Robins Air Force Base.

Their watch area extends far beyond the base gates.

It spans around the globe.

Roddy Nixon watches a tattered storm lazily make its way up the eastern seaboard.

It's size and direction don't concern him, not the way hurricanes past alarmed this 30-year weather-watching veteran.

"Andrew formed in late August. It was a late season storm, but it was a monster. Katrina died and was reborn."

He remembers Floyd turning I-16 into a parking lot of people evacuating the coast, and Alberto burying planes in flood waters

"It was absolute chaos. People didn't know what to do."

But out of the disasters emerged a realization for Nixon's crew:

"It opened our eyes to the importance of preparedness," says Nixon.

When storms churn, Robins forecasters don't wait on the National Weather Service to issue watches or warnings, a major difference from broadcast meteorologists.

They use weather data collected on the flightline and radars to make calls.

Their advisories often precede those of the National Weather Service because of the volume of people and assets they protect.

Nixon says, "The early lead times for severe weather are mission-critical, allowing people on the flight line to move those aircraft into hangars or in some cases evacuate them to other bases or airfields."

Each time an aircraft leaves Robins, forecasts from this office follow them.

"That aircraft is ours from takeoff to touchdown anytime, anywhere in the world," says Nixon.

They're constantly watching conditions in deployed locations and those with potential American interests.

"We're monitoring satellite conditions in Syria. We're in a position where the President, at any given time, could give an order for action in that theater," Nixon stated.

If troops put boots on the ground, the units military forecasters often follow.

Senior Airman Erik White returned from Kuwait in May.

Overseas, White says they rely on their eyes and handheld data collection devices. Technology isn't always available, but forecasts are just as critical.

"One of the most important weather forecasts of all time was D-Day. The D-Day mission was a successful weather mission. It was where we used the weather to exploit our enemies. We still do that today," says White.

They're behind the scenes, but Nixon says at the forefront of every Department of Defense mission, "You can give me the key to Fort Knox, you can give me a Cadillac. Saving those lives means a hell of a lot more than any of those gifts."

They're always vigilant, watching the skies for the weather that's both enemy and ally.

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