The question of whether the role of on-the-ground meteorologists at Long Island MacArthur Airport will be turned over to air traffic controllers has been answered — at least for now.
The airport’s contract weather observation station, one of 57 stations the Federal Aviation Administration was considering closing, will remain open, according to a statement this week from the office of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
That is at least through October 2017, as stipulated in legislation passed earlier in the month by the House and signed into law, the statement said.
“I have always supported keeping open the Contract Weather Observer Office at Islip MacArthur Airport,” said Zeldin, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation.
The weather observer station “serves an important role, not just in aviation safety for Long Island pilots and passengers, but for our entire region’s ability to be prepared for dangerous weather events,” he said.
Zeldin came out against the proposal last November, saying the plan calls on controllers, who “already have enough on their plate ensuring our safety in the air,” to oversee the automated weather monitoring system. “We should leave weather observation to the professionals who are experts in meteorology.”
Eight observers, who are all meteorologists or military trained — two of them full time, two part time and four relief workers — are assigned to MacArthur by Florida-based Ibex Weather Services, said Hank Berg, supervisor of contract weather observers at MacArthur. Their jobs would have been eliminated under the FAA’s new approach.
Air traffic controllers, pilots and others have access to the weather data for use in decision-making.
Asked about the extension, Berg said Friday, “We know we still have work ahead of us; however, hopefully this has started to create an understanding of the important contribution we make to help keep air travel safe.”
The role of observers includes monitoring surface conditions, such as cloud height, visibility and precipitation type, which can vary from what is observed by tower controllers stationed 129 feet above ground.
In an interview last November, Berg told of getting calls from the tower saying that rain, not a rain-sleet mix, was being observed at their height and asking whether he was sure about his data. “I was just outside and got pelted by it,” was his response, pointing out that when you’re talking about near-freezing conditions, even 1 degree can matter.
Observers also provide “augmentation” to the Automated Surface Observing System, instruments that provide minute-by-minute updates on conditions. These include cloud height and nature — such as scattered or overcast visibility, temperature, precipitation, and wind speed and direction.