VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The famed Californian Highway 1 not only provides a beautiful interconnection between our neighbors in Las Angeles and San Francisco, but lines the outside fences of the only launch port on the western sea board.
Located an hour south of San Luis Obispo sits the 30th Space Wing’s northern most point, Point Sal, and an hour north of Santa Barbara sits the southernmost headland, Point Conception. Between these two features is a remarkable weather system that is surveyed daily by some of the Air Force’s most educated Airmen.
After graduating from Basic Military Training in Texas weather Airmen head over to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi for a turbulent, 9 month curriculum. Through their three blocks of atmospheric sciences, location based forecasts, and a forecasting block they begin to apply their training to real world, mission ready applications.
“In the first block of school, our weathermen learn the basics of atmospheric sciences and dynamics within the atmosphere,” said Master Sgt. William Price, 30th Operations Support Squadron superintendent. “This teaches them the baseline knowledge needed to understand weather and terrestrial weather on earth. Building upon the first block, they next move into learning specific forecast techniques; so that they are able to identify specific things on different products we utilize like satellite, radar, and solar weather. The final culminating piece of school is to formulate several forecasts for a specific location, how to analyze different weather products, then how to brief that information. After completion of training they follow on to a weather flight, or an operational weather squadron where they go into more on the job training for their specific location.”
One specific location is Vandenberg Air Force Base, where real-time data is analyzed from weather sensors strung across the Western Range, satellite data, radar to track convective information on base, buoy data on occasion to provide sea surface temperatures, and weather balloons to provide a span of data from the ground to the sky. All of this information is vital to the many customers of a weather forecast.
“On a routine basis at another Air Force Base, we would do some force protection and provide a few forecasts for operations as far as fire departments doing a controlled burn, and stuff like that,” said Price. “Here, it is much more robust. We still provide forecasts like we would at other bases, but here we specialize our forecasts for all the stuff that leads up to a launch. Those being fuel transports, payload transports, equipment transports; we are doing specialized forecasts, and tailoring our forecasts so that they have the necessary information to go forward with their operation.”
With all the knowledge, tools and experience… one question begged an answer. Why is Vandenberg always cloudy?
With a chuckle Technical Sgt. Kevin Scadden, 30th OSS NCOIC of training, and flight range weather forecaster responded, “This marine layer is a normal part of our life on the central coast, especially during the summer. In the simplest terms, we have a huge source of moisture right on our coast, and that water is cold. Together, the cold water with the cold air make fog. The high air pressure over the Pacific during the summer keeps the winds from getting convective, or turbulent, making for a quite tranquil space. Basically, the weather is at peace, and when things are peaceful, moisture tends to settle.”
MSgt. Price went on to explain the seabreaze we experience on base.
“Another key factor is that the land heats up quit a bit faster than the water,” said Price. “During the daytime, when we have that heat hitting the earth’s surface, our land temperature raises quite a bit faster than ocean. This causes us to have a natural cycle of our winds here. It’s pretty calm and light at night with stable conditions, and then during the daytime the wind starts to increase from the west. Called a seabreaze, it naturally pulls in more moisture from the ocean onshore toward us.”
The sheer amount of detail illustrated to answer why the 30th Space Wing is so foggy shows the technicality, and attention to detail, of Vandenberg’s 30th OSS weathermen.