Forecasters look to the skies during Northern Edge

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. Ricardo Branch
  • Northern Edge Joint Information Bureau
Northern Edge 2009, the largest military training exercise in Alaska, is underway. The pilots and support personnel involved in the air-centric exercise have many tasks to accomplish but one consistent obstacle, the weather, can always affect the mission.
Leading the charge to stay one step ahead of the weather are a team of dedicated professionals working in the wing weather flight office here.

"Our mission is to inform the pilots what to expect when they are out there flying missions for Northern Edge," said Staff Sgt. David Craig, weather forecaster with the 611th Air and Space Operations Center. "When pilots are flying, they can encounter thunderstorms, lightning, turbulence, hail, and even forest fire smoke, so we need to be aware what's going on in the sky."

The weather personnel receive their information from many sources to keep the pilots safe for their mission.

"We get weather reports from the National Weather Service, satellite feeds, and weather forecasts from the 170th Weather Operation Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii," Craig said. "We receive these updates daily and go through them to see what impacts us in Alaska."

The Airmen consolidate the data and disseminate a report to the pilots in three ways: standup briefs, face-to-face meetings, and over the phone.

"Most jet fighters can fly through anything but, when it gets bad safety becomes a concern, therefore, weather can have a direct impact on any mission," Craig said. "It's happened a few times in history where major missions have been change due to weather."

"Thankfully, the weather has been pretty good for Northern Edge so far," Craig added.
The weather personnel also look to the skies outside their shop every hour for direct situational awareness.

"We go out there to assess cloud heights, cloud coverage, and see if precipitation is occurring for flight safety," said Capt. Scott Tracy, 18th Operations Support Squadron. "Ninety percent of the time the equipment on the runway is giving the correct readings, but we still verify the data by checking the sky."

According to Craig, the weather personnel play a vital role in any military operation or exercise. Throughout Northern Edge, he'll remain busy briefing commanders and pilots on the daily weather forecast.

"I always tell my commanders, 'I'm never wrong, my timing is just off,'" he said. "Weather can be predictable to a point, but it's always just a matter of when it will happen."

Whatever the case, the 9,000 military service members participating in Northern Edge can look to the sky and rest assured that, their weather personnel look to the skies and make sure weather doesn't impact the success of the mission in Alaska.

"A successful mission is when you tell them what will happen, and it happens," Craig said. "We're going to continue to do as much as we can to get the right information to the right people."