Kathy Winters is an Air Force Civilian Meteorologist at the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. She is the Space Shuttle Launch Weather Officer providing weather support to the Space Shuttle Program at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as the Launch Team prepares for the 21 July 2011 landing of Atlantis. You can find out more about the 45th Space Wing at their Facebook page.
While Atlantis is on orbit, the 45th Weather Squadron is keeping busy. In fact, Tropical Storm Bret formed approximately 170 nautical miles offshore Sunday, July 17. Bret is in a somewhat unfavorable environment for intensifying, and meteorological models are in good agreement that Bret will move off to the northeast, away from the Florida Space Coast, luckily!
When a tropical cyclone develops the 45th Weather Squadron provides tailored weather information to 45th Space Wing and Kennedy Space Center leadership, including the Shuttle Launch Director, to ensure they have the information needed to make decisions to prepare as necessary. Hurricane Conditions, known as “HURCONS,” may be declared by the Kennedy Space Center Director and the 45th Space Wing Commander. Hurricane conditions kick-off actions to prepare for a threatening storm. Hurricane Conditions are defined as follows:
HURCON IV: 50-knot sustained winds are expected within the next 72 hours
HURCON III: 50-knot sustained winds are expected within the next 48 hours
HURCON II: 50-knot sustained winds are expected within the next 24 hours
HURCON I: 50-knot sustained winds are expected within the next 12 hours
Often we cannot determine with absolute certainty if 50-knot winds will impact the area. To communicate the uncertainty of the situation, we discuss the potential for 50-knot winds using the National Hurricane Center’s wind speed probability product. In this case, the risk for 50-knot winds is focused northeast of the storm along the National Hurricane Center’s forecast track.
If a tropical cyclone threatens the Johnson Space Center in Houston while a Shuttle is on orbit, NASA activates the Emergency Mission Control Center at Kennedy Space Center, and members of the Johnson Space Center Mission Control Team travel to Kennedy Space Center for the Shuttle landing. In this situation, NASA plans to bring the Space Shuttle to Kennedy Space Center as quickly and safely as possible, likely within a couple of days.
Although Tropical Storm Bret is looming off the coast, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast tracks the storm northeast for the next several days; therefore, Spaceflight Meteorology Group at Johnson Space Center expects favorable landing weather for Atlantis’ return home Thursday morning. The 45th Weather Squadron is responsible for the post-landing processing weather support, and weather looks favorable for all the post landing activities. It’s hard to believe this will be the last Shuttle landing!
If the weather surprises us and is not favorable Thursday morning, Atlantis may land at Edwards Air Force Base, California. If this occurs, the 45th Weather Squadron provides weather support for the Ferry Flight from California to Florida. I’ll cover Ferry Flights on my next post. Stay tuned!