Weather forecasters at Scott AFB impact lives of students

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --

It was a cloudy Friday in March, the cool damp air outside lingered from the last remnants of winter as spring steadily made its welcome return to the Midwest.

While most other middle school classes were eyeballing the wall-mounted clock, watching it tick slowly to the weekend, the middle school students of Woodlawn, Ill., were busy touring the operations centers at the 15th Operational Weather Squadron and the Weather Support Flight at Scott Air Force Base.

Throughout their field trip, the students learned about meteorology and how Air Force weather forecasters use it to aid mission-critical operations. They also received hands-on experience with the same tools and equipment weather Airmen use to observe and forecast the weather.

During their tour, the students saw a glimpse into the world of the Air Force as well.

After they pulled into the Scott Gate, the Woodlawn middle schoolers first arrived at the 15th OWS where they were brought into the conference room for a chance to ask the Squadron leadership questions about meteorology and how the Air Force uses it. Afterward, they received a tour of the facilities and were taught about the OWS’s mission to examine and evaluate weather phenomena across a 24-state region of the northeastern United States, as well as Canada and Greenland.

They also learned how weather can affect different Air Force and Army installations within the squadron’s area of responsibility, and how the OWS disseminates weather watches, warnings, and advisories to communicate the risk and danger that weather phenomena may pose to those locations.

As part of their tour at the 15th, students experienced the Weather Operations Simulator, where they issued weather watches, warnings, and advisories exactly as the 15th does in the real world. The exercise taught the middle schoolers all the different atmospheric variables the forecaster has to weigh when making a decision about whether to issue an alert, including how the weather phenomena will adversely affect resources, personnel, and the mission, and the actions the alert will drive from decision makers on the other end.

“The products we put out, whether it’s a lightning watch or a tornado warning, go out to our supported units to inform them, and then those units decide which actions are appropriate to take given the risk,” said Tech. Sgt. Eric Burgher, 15th OWS, as he instructed the students.

After the operations exercise, the students finished their tour of the rest of the squadron, including the actual operations floor of the OWS. The students learned about the impact severe weather can have on military operations and how the Air Force is equipped to adapt and overcome in order for the mission to continue.

After their tour of the 15th OWS, the Woodlawn students toured the weather support flight. They learned how a local weather flight observes the current weather conditions and assesses the impact the environment will have on the aircraft, equipment, and operations at that particular base. During this part of their field trip, the class asked questions of the weather flight personnel and learned more about the importance of education for Airmen.

During the question and answers portion of the tour, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Hartline said, “We’re always training to maintain our readiness and to make sure we’re prepared to go anywhere in the world.”

Hartline noted the technical aspects of weather observation and forecasting in situations such as an overseas deployment. He detailed the types of equipment that might be used, including aerostats that are piloted remotely to measure wind speed and direction, temperature and dew point, and other atmospheric data that might be used to increase the accuracy of weather forecasts.

The Woodlawn students came away from their class trip with insight both into the complicated world of weather forecasting and also the mission of the Air Force weather forecaster.

Evelyn Hankins, the class’s teacher stated, “I think this field trip really made some of the students think about how science is important in their daily lives, and meteorology is one field that is needed every day.”

Throughout their field trip, the students received a myriad of information, but a recurring theme was the emphasis on education.

For the weather forecaster, education never stops and training never ends.

“One of my students really developed a love for predicting the weather because of the field trip. Actually seeing people use the information they learn in a science class made the students realize the importance of education” Hankins said.