By 1st Lt Jerad Hoff
Phoenix, Ariz - Hurricane Pancho was supposed to whirl into Arizona with winds gusting to 135mph leaving a wake of damage and flooding throughout southern portions of the state. That was the plan anyway for a statewide exercise that was going to be held by the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol on August 20th, instead the phone started ringing after Thursday’s storms with requests from the Arizona Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) and the National Weather Service (NWS) requesting aerial photographs of storm affected areas. Throw a request by the Air Force to fly a mission for them and the day became quite busy for the Arizona Wing.
Wing officials tweaked the plan for Saturday, re-tasking aircraft from their planned exercise sorties to instead cover requests for photographs from areas spread across nine different counties. The previous week’s severe storm created flooding and possible microbursts and tornadoes. The NWS was looking for photograph evidence to support the reports they were hearing from the effected areas. ADEM also was looking for photographs of areas affected by recent wildfires, protective dikes to assess their condition, and the condition of several washed out roads.
Vice Wing Commander Lt Col Brian Ready said the timing just happened to work out very well that so many requests were able to be managed on a single day. “We already had plans for setting up a mission base, had aircrews assigned, and an ambitious exercise to execute. It was simply a matter of changing assignments for the aircrews before they departed.”
Ken Waters, the Warning Coordination Meterologist for the Phoenix office of the NWS is hopeful having aerial photography will help in their work. “This is something new for us to have access to [aerial photographs],” Waters said. “We’re always looking for any documentation of storm damage,” Waters explained. He said the information becomes part of the official record and that the data is placed into a national database that is used by scientists, emergency managers, and private industries like insurance companies to study storm damage. Getting photographs from the air provides a perspective that tells the story of what happened where according to Waters, “it’s very difficult to do that on the ground.”
The NWS will review the photos provided by the Arizona aircrews for patterns in the damage that may reveal the direction of the winds, such as straight line or rotational winds that could be further evidence of a tornado.
The refocus of the exercise didn’t slow down the ground team training that was planned for the day, making the mission base at the Deer Valley Airport a busy place bursting with people. Over twenty senior and cadet members participated in classroom sessions and field training to further their ground team qualifications.
Mission base personnel kept busy with tracking the aircraft and staffing the communications equipment. Four officers from CAP-USAF were also on hand to observe and share their expertise.
Lt Col Ready was thrilled with the end result Saturday. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how we were able to change our training objectives on the fly to meet the needs of our partners. We have some great people working in this Wing and I’m very proud of them,” he said.