Renewal ensures wing, Volcanic Ash Advisory Center partnership endures

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Nies
  • 2nd Weather Squadron

Although the 557th Weather Wing is primarily focused on applying environmental knowledge and outcomes to directly and deliberately impose cost on the adversary, it also has a lesser-known role monitoring volcanoes and tracking mission-impacting ash plumes.

These plumes also affect commercial flying operations and require a close partnership with one of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers.

The 557th WW serves as the backup to the Washington VAAC via its own VAAC located within the 2nd Weather Squadron.

This backup capability ensures that the Department of Commerce continues to protect general and commercial aviation over the U.S by leveraging Department of Defense capabilities.

“The 2nd WS has had a long-standing relationship with the Washington VAAC,” said Staff Sgt. Theresa Rutledge, 2nd WS Meteorological Satellite noncommissioned officer in charge. “Our relationship was further cemented at the end of 2020 with a renewal of the official agreement we hold between us.”

The most important part of the agreement appoints 2nd WS as the primary source of backup for the Washington VAAC if they are unable to provide their services.

In recent weeks, 2nd WS and the Washington VAAC, with the critical help of the 16th Weather Squadron and 2nd Systems Operations Squadron, reestablished the communications connection between the 557th WW and the Washington VAAC which had been inoperative for the past several months. Critical communications with the Washington VAAC have been restored, and the nation’s commerce will continue to be protected by leveraging the capabilities of the 557th WW.

“We were experiencing an ongoing issue of 2nd WS products not disseminating properly to the VAAC webpage during outages. With the help of 2nd SYOS,
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and IT at the VAAC, we were able to restore capabilities to 100% within the week due to the cooperation we have between both civilian and military entities,” Rutledge said.

With a diverse mission of its own that extends from space weather to meteorological operations at the top-secret level, the 2nd WS manages the DoD’s only volcanic ash advisory center. Operated by the 2nd WS’s Weather Intelligence Flight, analysts are tasked with monitoring 1,500 active volcanoes around the globe 24/7 with a specific focus on eruptions that release volcanic ash and have direct impacts to DoD operations.

Analysts use open-source intelligence, which includes social media and webcams as well as meteorological satellite imagery to identify possible eruptions. Once identified, they verify the presence of any volcanic ash. Once volcanic ash is detected, analysts issue a volcanic ash bulletin. These text bulletins include specific details about the ash eruption to include location of the volcano, detection source, trajectory and where further information can be found. The 2nd WS also produces unique forecast animations to allow DoD units to see ash accumulation, concentration, height and movement over a span of time.

Ash cloud information is especially important to aircrew. Volcanic ash is a significant hazard to aircraft as most need to remain at least 50 nautical miles away from volcanic ash to prevent an incident. Ash can enter aircraft engines causing them to catch fire and/or completely fail.

“The 557th WW and 2nd WS will continue to utilize its unique capabilities to identify, coordinate and disseminate tailored information that not only serves DoD operations, but also the national interest domestically via its partnership with the Department of Commerce,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Santiago, 2nd WS commander.