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6th SOPS provides assistance during hurricane season

The 6th Space Operations Squadron used the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to capture this imagery of Hurricane Dorian, which formed Aug. 24, 2019 near the Bahamas. The DMSP can collect information such as infrared data, which detects temperature differences to provide better projections for hurricane models. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

The 6th Space Operations Squadron used the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to capture this imagery of Hurricane Dorian, which formed Aug. 24, 2019 near the Bahamas. The DMSP can collect information such as infrared data, which detects temperature differences to provide better projections for hurricane models. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

The 6th Space Operations Squadron delivers meteorological data to the military and civilians around the world throughout the year that plays a critical role during hurricane season.

The unit’s mission is to capture and deliver timely environmental data for its users. Maj. Cuyler Gembol, 6th SOPS chief of training, said the squadron captures information to help users design hurricane models to predict a hurricane’s track or its intensity during the season, that runs June 1 - Nov. 30.

“When we ‘capture’ data, we contact our satellites and are actively accessing that memory to bring down weather data since [the satellite last] traveled around the earth,” he said. “After we capture that data, we deliver it to the users.”

The data is an open source available for anyone to access. Its primary users include the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska and the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, California, who use the raw data for modeling ocean surface forecasts, respectively.

The 6th SOPS, which is a fully reserve unit, partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in Suitland, Maryland, to provide information. The 6th SOPS military association is to the 50th Operations Group Detachment 1, a component of 50th Operations Group located here, which is also located in Suitland, Maryland.

The NOAA and 6th SOPS use the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to provide imagery of what’s occurring on earth’s surface.

The DMSP is a satellite constellation with a low-earth, polar orbit that circles the planet every 101 minutes. Maj. Meagan Tovado, 6th SOPS assistant director of operations, said Airmen train for nearly three months to understand satellite operations. 

“They have to know everything from ground system set up, ground system troubleshooting, state of health [of satellites] and verify any anomalies while we’re contacting satellites,” Tovado said.  

The training ensures satellites can collect information such as infrared data, which detects temperature differences to provide better projections for hurricane models.

With a hurricane that’s huge, you’ll get massive temperature differences and our sensors will pick that up,” Gembol said. “We also can measure moisture content on the Earth’s surface. When a hurricane is coming, once those models are built and [users] know where it’s going, sensors on our spacecraft can give an idea of moisture content on the surface where the hurricane can potentially make landfall.”

Those models also help locate high-risk areas where occupants need to evacuate or find shelter.

“We don’t make those decisions as to who evacuates,” Gembol said. “But the information we collect from the spacecraft goes into the models that generate a lot of different products in the U.S. and around the world to make those decisions.”

Gembol said Airmen sometimes have a small window to capture the required information from a satellite.

“For a DMSP operator, the time we have to contact that satellite to capture data is [short],” Gembol said. “When it’s hurricane season or a critical weather day is in effect, you want to be successful on that one attempt. When it’s not successful, that turns into what we call ‘data chasing,’ meaning we’re on the phone with 22 SOPS and we work to find any availability at any ground site around the world that our satellite might pass on that revolution so we can get the data down as fast as possible.”

Tovado said the 6th SOPS understands how critical their mission is to military and civilian users and they’re grateful to see the impact of their work.   

“That’s why we work hard to make sure we get data to provide that near real-time emergency warning on the civilian side and proper go or no-go weather calls to our military end users,” Tovado said.

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