Weatherman retires after 50-plus years

A civilian with the 56th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight is retiring after 52 years of combined military and federal service.

Ronald Presnal, 56th OSS Weather Flight weatherman, spent much of his life working in the weather career field at several bases, and saw many changes to his career field, before medical problems forced him to retire from the work he loves so much.

“I’d stay forever,” he said. “I enjoyed my career at Luke; in fact I did not want to retire. It’s just that I’m getting older now, and with my handicap, it was time to go.”

Presnal began his career as a weather observer at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, then deployed to Vietnam. He returned to Otis AFB, Massachusetts, and from there served in five assignments before joining the combat weather team here at Luke Air Force Base.

He has spent 52 years doing a job about which he loves to talk. Like the weather, Presnal has seen many changes to his career field in those years.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “The people have changed. The techniques have changed. It started in the late ‘90s and changed gradually so as you really didn’t notice it.”

The way of collecting, analyzing and forecasting the weather all changed.

“Everything was done by hand before, and now everything is done with computers,” Presnal said. “All the weather charts were done by hand in color. Forecasters would put these charts on walls and analyze them, now they’re forecasted on a computer screen.”

Along with changes to how technicians communicate information, the amount of technicians needed to do the job has decreased. Technology plays a big part.

“We had twice as many people back then. We had observers at the observation site and weather station, plus forecasters, and a weather station maintenance crew that could carry equipment,” he said. “We had three sections — observing, forecasting and maintenance. Now there are no observers. The forecasters take observations and equipment on the runway takes observations. We actually don’t take any observations, unless something goes wrong with the equipment.”

Presnal, spent many years forecasting changes in the weather, but he wasn’t able to forecast what he describes as the “perfect storm,” which began his retirement.

“Multiple myeloma and prostate cancer,” Presnal said. “It was like the perfect storm of medical things. I was in the hospital for five months. Doctors removed all my toes on my right foot and cut the tips off my fingers, because they were like sausages.”

Presnal, now out of the hospital, uses a wheel chair and a cane to get around, but that hasn’t stopped him from coming to work to check on his Airmen.

“I enjoy the kids. They’re in their 20s, and I’m in my 70s,” he said.

After serving 52 years, he says the thing he will miss most has always been the most important in his career – the people.

“I’m really going to miss the people and the weather,” he said. “In Arizona the weather is challenging. There is always something going on when it comes to work; it’s never the same.”

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