Mother Nature never rests, neither do weather Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Even with today's modern aircraft technology, one uncontrollable factor -- the weather -- is often the deciding factor as to whether an aircraft gets off the ground.

But uncontrollable doesn't mean unpredictable.

Here in Southwest Asia, the eight-member weather flight of the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron provides 24/7 weather support for all assets here. They also provide an "eyes forward" capability in conjunction with Airmen in the 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., who provide information on approaching weather to all bases in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

"If, for example, there are severe thunderstorms en route, or a large sand storm approaching that threatens base assets or life and limb, (the 28 OWS Airmen issue) the advisory while we provide the on-scene information to local agencies," said Senior Master Sgt. Tom Zipprich, the weather flight superintendent, deployed here from Dyess AFB, Texas.

"We are dependent on support from the 28 OWS and all other weather stations in the AOR," he said. "We are directly responsible to the wing's aircraft no matter where they are flying."

Each 12-hour weather shift has two forecasters on duty, a mission weather forecaster and an airfield services forecaster.

The mission weather forecaster provides the mission execution forecast, a constantly-updated report on weather that may impact air assets.

"You can pretty much see (the dust storms) coming at you, but the challenge I've had since I've been here is fog," said Staff Sgt. Esteban Acosta, 379 EOSS weather flight duty forecaster, deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan. "Usually, there's a checklist of what fog should do or what conditions warrant fog; here it's the complete opposite. There will be six indicators that point to 'no fog' and you'll wake up and can't see anything. It's the trickiest thing to forecast here."

Using satellite images, computer models and remote observation stations, the mission weather forecaster provides a regional outlook and acts as the liaison between the weather flight and the various flying units on base, both American and coalition.

"It's awesome," Sergeant Acosta said. "You really see the impact we have in dramatically changing situations when we give the heads-up to the pilots."

Meanwhile, the airfield services forecaster monitors the weather directly affecting the base. This forecaster provides the 30-hour terminal area forecast, as well as disseminating hourly conditions in the event of rapidly changing weather. In addition, this forecaster also communicates with airborne crews to provide real-time information.

Elements that must be monitored are wind speed in knots and direction, restrictions to visibility in meters and the cause of the restriction (sand, fog, etc.), cloud heights and amount of coverage, atmospheric pressure, temperature and any other elements significant to the safe operation of aircraft.

For instance, Tech Sgt. Duane Willson, a duty forecaster deployed here from Dover Air Force Base, Del., described the phenomenon of virga, which is precipitation that never reaches the ground, creating crosswinds and changes in temperature.

Sergeant Willson said it takes "an entire season to learn what the weather for that season, for that location, is," referring to his home station. "We're only here for one 'season', so we need to master our skills quickly."

"It's a high-ops tempo assignment, but it's great for a weather guy," said Capt. William Frey, the weather flight commander, deployed here from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England.

"Even on a good weather day, we're still putting out products for all the missions going out," he said.