Imagine receiving your seven-day forecast for western Massachusetts and severe weather updates from a television station in the Midwest, not from CBS3 Springfield or any other local media outlet. Such is the reality now at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, which had their on-site meteorologist transferred because of recent government spending cuts.
Lt. Col. Christopher Plonka has served as a meteorologist at Barnes for 12 years, and will be assigned to Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod beginning this fall. Barnes will now receive all of their weather information from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
Plonka was responsible for monitoring conditions for takeoff at Barnes as well as weather along the designated routes during weekend training sessions.
"We're going to look for things such as severe weather, turbulence, icing, conditions like that which could impact flying operations," said Plonka.
Those weather briefings will now come all the way from Illinois, which may lose the element of on-site weather observations for takeoff at Barnes, and quickly changing conditions directly incorporated into the forecasts.
Plonka also took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, with his forecasts being integrated into the Mission Planning Cell. Just as residents of western Massachusetts look ahead at the forecast to make or break their weekend plans, the United States Air Force also heavily relies on accurate, precise forecasts for combat missions.
"Basically, they are planning out these missions several days in advance." said Plonka. "They get their orders of what targets they are going to need to engage. We will provide them the weather conditions for those expected targets, as well as those locations."
Unfortunately, Plonka's status at Otis Air National Guard Base is still uncertain. Otis has also experienced numerous cutbacks in the government's attempt to decrease spending, including the elimination of more than 150 positions at Otis.
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