Winds of change, 26th OWS upgrades

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joseph Boals
  • 2d Bomb Wing Public Affairs
If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. To keep up with this demand, the 26th Operational Weather Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base has several upgrade plans in the works.

The first project is the Joint Environment Toolkit, a system the Air Force Weather Agency uses to monitor weather conditions at hundreds of Air Force bases and Army installations worldwide.

The JET allows for one system to keep an eye on watches, warnings and observations across the globe. This allows weather flights the capability to grab charts and graphs from a common interface.

"The upgrade to JET is really going to help the communication between the 26th OWS and our customers by integrating everything we use into one system," said Airman 1st Class Patrick Marable, weather forecaster. "This improves our capability in helping all involved complete the mission."

"Whiteman AFB, Mo., has been using JET for a year and a half working out the various bugs and issues," said Maj. Greg Barnhart, training flight commander. Additional weather flights are expected to switch over to JET this year with complete turnover a few years down the road. The JET upgrade however does require additional space requirements at the OWS. New server racks will entail additional power, ventilation and air conditioning system requirement, which ultimately means additional space.

In addition to the JET upgrade, NOAA begins to upgrade the Doppler radar systems nation-wide this fall. This upgrade gives the Doppler radar dual-polarization capability. This new capability integrates the cells in a manner that clearly distinguishes the particle as rain, sleet, snow, or more importantly hail. It also vastly improves rainfall estimates and in close range, the radar can resolve a tornado debris cloud. The 26th OWS heavily depends on the Doppler to issue time critical warnings, such as large hail, damaging winds or tornadoes, so an upgrade like this could lead to improvement in warning timeliness.

"Summer going into fall we'll see more of the JET," said Maj. Barnhart. "Dual-polarization of all radars starts in Wichita, Kansas, in November, and will take two years to upgrade. It has a down time of 10-14 days per radar and it's unfavorable to have radar non-functioning during storm season."

Planned upgrades to computer software will improve forecast accuracy. Forecast models used by the current software gives one solution to current weather conditions, but future software will allow ensemble models to display between 10-20 possible outcomes of weather systems. These possible solutions are used to create probability of weather parameters or events. Currently these ensembles are available through the Joint Air Force and Army Weather Information Network and NOAA, and proved very successful during the past four years.

AFWA joins its civilian counterparts in following social media trends using Google Earth to display current and forecasted weather data. Google Earth allows weather forecasters to zoom in and out to see details of storm systems without losing resolution. It also allows a 3-dimensional view of terrain and how storms react to given terrain. In addition, the NWS is experimenting during 2010 receiving storm reports through "tweets" -- real-time status messages on Websites like

"Storm reporting is key to verify warnings we issue," said Major Barnhart. This differs from the normal tradition of having trained weather spotters calling in weather conditions such as rainfall, snowfall, or storm damage.

As the weather changes, 26 OWS continues to adapt by improving software, equipment and communication.