Hanscom team brought crazy 2017 weather into focus

  • Published
  • By Benjamin Newell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Battle Management personnel protected 800 weather systems from 2017’s WannaCry virus, stood up a supercomputer and protected Air Force assets from Hurricane Harvey, earning an annual command-level award.

Approximately 70 civilians, Airmen and contractors stationed here at Hanscom and an operating location at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, worked together on multiple projects throughout 2017. They tackled new problems while planning for future equipment obsolescence and laying foundations for the type of weather accuracy military operations require. Their efforts resulted in selection for an Air Force Materiel Command below-unit level weather organization of the year award.

“We’re really excited about the work we’ve done so far to establish a weather engineering facility here at Hanscom,” said Lt. Col.  James Bono, deputy branch chief for Battle Management’s Weather Systems Branch. “We’re taking back the baseline by owning the technical requirements for garrison and deployed weather sensor systems. With this facility, engineers can lay their hands on the equipment and work out problems we might encounter in the field.”

Nearly every developed Air Force runway on earth is equipped with one or more weather detection instrument clusters, which feed approaching and departing aircraft conditions so they can plot safe landings, or avoid runways during the worst conditions. Bono’s branch manages all these weather detection systems, and worked during 2017 to protect them from ransomware computer viruses, while trying to keep sustainment costs as low as possible.

“Air Force weather generates and moves more than 50 terabytes of data a day,” said Terry O’Donnell, Weather Systems Branch chief engineer. “With high resolution forecasts from the largest operational supercomputer in the Air Force, called ‘Thor’, we’ve now delivered exceptional capability to the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt to forecast, at 17 kilometer resolution, weather events around the globe.”

Today, accurate weather modeling depends on a few major factors. Initial data gathering via satellite, buoys and ground weather stations provides current weather conditions at the point of collection. The ability to compile that data is a second step. The final step relies on some of the largest computing centers on earth to crunch composite conditions and forecast the likely future state of the weather. This third step is where Thor comes in.

The point of weather data collection, compilation and modeling is to provide commanders with information they need to act. This year’s active hurricane season tested a third accomplishment of the Weather Systems Branch, which was to bring Air Force forecasts onto a standard model called the Global Air Land Weather Exploitation Model.

“GALWEM nailed the path and severity of Hurricane Harvey, which contributed to there being no loss of grounded Air Force aircraft due to weather events,” said Bono. “Working off a single, robust forecast gave us the ability to accurately predict weather patterns and take action, making us more combat effective.”