During periods of severe weather, observers at the Charleston contract station issue real-time reports as high winds, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and hailstorms occur, and again once the threats have passed, Broussard said. When power outages disable the automated system, the station's meteorological technicians manually calculate and record weather data.
"If two consecutive scheduled hourly reports are not reported during a power outage, the Terminal Air Forecast for the airport is cancelled," which could cause serious delays, Broussard said.
Last year, Yeager's crew of weather observers produced more than 500 manual reports. After the late-June derecho swept through the state, "this staff manned the station with all power out in 100-degree weather to ensure that the air traffic controllers and the National Weather Service meteorologists had current weather reports," Broussard said.
Mike Forman, the union representative at the Charleston Air Traffic Control tower, said if the closure plan moves forward, training and tests could be expected soon to familiarize controllers with the policies and procedures needed to operate a Limited Aviation Weather Reporting System.
Having to assume many of the duties previously performed by the contract observers "will be an added distraction," he said. "It was never my intent to become a weatherman. You can teach a miner how to fix a sink, but that doesn't make him a plumber. And aviation weather is a cornerstone of to the overall safety of the National Airspace System."
Forman added that if the goal of the closure plan is to boost the economy, "it's hard for me to see how putting middle class workers across the country, including six here locally, out of work with no prospects of getting a similar job in their profession is going to help."
When asked when or whether the contingency plan phasing out the contract weather observer stations and Yeager and other U.S. airports would be implemented, a spokeswoman with the FAA regional office in New York responded only that "the FAA plans to fund Contract Weather Observers to the end this fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2013."
In another development, the FAA announced Friday that the closure of 149 contract air towers across the nation, including towers at the airports serving Parkersburg, Lewisburg and Wheeling, will be postponed until June 15.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.