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New weather system cuts cost, effort for meteorologist

Story and photo by Airman Jose Climaco
Thunderbolt staff writer
photo by Airman Jose Climaco

Airman 1st Class Gary Davenport inspects the field data collection unit of the AN/FMQ-19. The FDCU contains the batteries and modem of the new weather system.

Replacing parts of a weather system after constantly being struck by lightning is now a thing of the past with the arrival of a new system at MacDill.

The AN/FMQ-19 Meteorological Observation System is an integrated weather system, consisting of multiple weather sensors and information technology components which continually measure the environment near the surface. The full system includes visibility/ambient light sensors, freezing rain sensors, precipitation identifications sensors, lightning detectors, ceilometer, relative humidity and ambient temperature sensors, precipitation gauge, wind monitor and a barometer.

Installing the new system was not an easy task, but METNAV systems technicians are thankful it's here. Airman 1st Class Gary Davenport, 6th Communications Squadron, METNAV systems technician, said it took many hours to install the software-based AN/FMQ-19.

Reliability, accuracy and maintenance costs are big improvements of the AN/FMQ-19 over the outdated AN/FMQ-13, said Tech. Sgt. Troy Wade, 6th CS, noncommissioned officer in charge of METNAV maintenance.

Replacing wind sensors after they were hit by lightning cost about $20,000. That will no longer be a problem as the AN/FMQ-19's parts are less susceptible to lightning strikes, they're cheaper and are under warranty, said Sergeant Wade.

The new system is capable of detecting lightning from 30 miles away, provides real-time weather readings, and it's easier to maintain and troubleshoot. Airmen are now capable of fixing problems from a computer instead of going near the flight line and fixing it manually.

Contractors installed the AN/FMQ-19 and trained METNAV technicians on operating all aspects of it, said Sergeant Wade.

Having a more advanced system will not make it more difficult for METNAV technicians to be proficient. Sergeant Wade said it's like working with any computer program: The more you work with it, the better you'll be, he said.

Airmen have the ability to see all of the system's readings on a computer, which then can be relayed to personnel who are flying and depend on precise information such as wind speeds.

The modern meteorological system was overdue at MacDill, said Airman Davenport. Parts usually are upgraded after a certain number of years but some here were 25 years old.

METNAV technicians are happy they will no longer have to replace expensive parts after one of the many summer thunderstorms strikes MacDill.

"It's a good system. It'll make everybody's job easier," said Sergeant Wade.




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