Chanute AFB: Weather school (1989)
©2004 Tim Vasquez

      From 1989 to 1998 I was in the Air Force, serving as a meteorologist. My very first assignment after basic training was weather observing school at Chanute Air Force Base, near Rantoul, Illinois. Here we learned to take and encode weather observations and got our Federal certification. The course lasted about two months. Typically after the first assignment we'd go back for the 7-month forecasting course, which I did in 1993.

The video clips are on YouTube. Head to my YouTube Chanute videos.

      These are frames taken from video while I was there in late summer / fall 1989. They're not the best of quality but they're all I have. At the time, nearly all of us were around 20 years old, and now we're all 35. I've been in touch with a few of them. One classmate, Wendy Welberry, was not in class on this day and I didn't get to include her.

Here we are at weather classes, which lasted from 8 am to 3 pm with an hour break for lunch. Amn Joseph (left) from Trinidad chats with "Gusty" Lawson. I heard from Mr. Lawson a few years ago and he is now an environmental systems engineer in Tulsa.
About the best video image we got of one of our instructors. They were meteorologists but technically worked for Air Training Command (now AETC). The ATC oversight allowed these courses to count as accredited university courses. This was Dana Becker, who taught our radar module. The few instructors I remember were Navy Petty Officer Skala who had a New Jersey accent, who taught weather basics, and most of all, the charismatic Mr. Tuller from New Mexico who taught the rigorous weather encoding/decoding course.
A glance at the blackboard. Any meteorologist worth their salt will recognize this as TEMP upper air format. I'm glad to report the school got white marker boards a couple of years later.
Classes were held in the huge P-3 building, which was constructed sometime around 1920 or 1930. About a week after this videotape was taken we moved to a newly-constructed weather schoolhouse, which had cost about $6 million.
One of P-3's long hallways. You'd almost think you were in a military facility in England during WWII.
One of our classmates jokes around in the main corridor.
Breaks are often spent with a soda or snack. This guy opts for a smoke.
The COMEDS terminal was used during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s at most Air Force weather stations. Here we got training on it. COMEDS was phased out around 1993 as Unix-based AWDS systems were installed.
Yours truly at the school's radar lab.
Typical assortment of classroom items. Markers and pens always seem to be in short supply.
"Gusty" Lawson takes a break from SKEW-T plotting. We gave him that name as he got an assignment to Alaska, a trip he which he was looking forward to. In cartoons he was drawn as a polar explorer with a frosted beard. Those calculator-looking things are meant to simulate the teleautowriter, a strange device that accepted pen inputs at the weather station and wrote them out at different places on the base such as the control tower and radar center. I never got to use one; my first duty assignment had a VT-100 based local computer network called LWDS (Local Weather Dissemination System). It was memorable watching Air Force weather make that rocky transition from 1960s gear to structured computer networks.
Amn Joseph and Amn Tabares are probably figuring pressure altitude for a weather assignment. The round disc was a computation device used to do pressure calculations.
A hallway in the weather school, P-3. The distinctive checkerboard pattern is etched in my mind.
This was the dorm in which we lived, called Hopwood Hall, or the 3362nd Student Squadron. Everybody had to live here unless they were married. This rule was typically carried over during an Air Force member's first few years by not providing BAQ (bachelor's allowance for quarters) to single members, meaning they had to pay out of their own pockets if they wanted to live off-base. Where I went, though, we were exempt and got full benefits. Myself and two coworkers got an apartment together after being in the military only five months.
Our dorm rooms looked a little like this. We all had one roommate. Mine was Trent Walbridge, who appeared in a 1999 TheStreet story. Apparently he left the service around the time of the high-tech boom and did cable modem installs. Air Force Weather lost a substantial number of people around 1997-98 due to the surging economy and the fact that people in this career field, which had one of the most stringent aptitude requirements in the Air Force, had a lot of IT skills just by the job's very nature.
Those long, cavernous hallways won't soon be forgotten. Fortunately I wasn't on the crew that had to clean them. Looking at these hallways makes me think of an incident where a floor above us, which specialized in military drill, put on a "razzle-dazzle" performance but tainted it with parody. I didn't see it, but the training instructors got upset and punished them with all-weekend dorm cleaning. I remember hearing the constant noise and commotion up above us while I lounged in the bed watching TV.
Playing pool in the dayroom was a popular pasttime. Most people relaxed here or at nearby spots on base, due to the restrictions of the ATC Phase program. This was meant to provide a structured transition from rigorous basic training life to the 9-to-5 grind. The most severe restrictions were in place for the first week and prohibited wearing civilian clothes, driving a car, or going off-base. After a month, most restrictions were waived and people were free to do what they wanted.

Return to Tim's web pages