Airmen's weather watch data enhances military missions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew McGovern
  • Central Command Air Force Public Affairs
Sandstorms, which often appear as solid walls of dust as much as 15,000 feet high, can obscure the sun and reduce visibility to zero.

A group of weather watching Airmen monitor Southwest Asia's approximately 55-million square-mile area of responsibility, forecasting these storms before they hit; providing a timely and accurate weather data for the warfighters.

Sandstorms, thunderstorms, fog, flooding, and even avalanches in Afghanistan are all weather factors closely monitored by Combat Operations Division Weather Airmen at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Southwest Asia.

"We watch for weather limitations and sensitivities that impact operations to include personnel and bases on the ground," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Magnuson, NCO in charge of the weather specialty team deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The information gathered from satellites and forward weather teams is used to provide the senior leadership, coalition liaisons and others across the area of responsibility with a "heads-up" five-day forecast.

"We provide leadership with advance notice of conditions that are prime for a natural disaster -- last month's flood in Afghanistan is an example," Sergeant Magnuson said.

A flash flood in the Helmand Urzgan region of Afghanistan March 19 stranded 350 civilians in the flood waters. Helicopters from the 33rd and 301st Emergency Rescue Squadron were assisted by coalition forces to rescue and recover the civilians.

"While the rescue was occurring, we were watching a strong thunderstorm on the satellite images approach from the west. We calculated the time it would be on top of the rescue area and alerted the Joint Personnel Recovery Center," said Capt. Bradley Stebbins, the weather specialty team chief deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

"The JPRC then informed the rescue team of how much time they had. The helicopters departed just before the threatening weather arrived," he said.

To get up-to-the-minute forecasts, it takes teamwork.

"There is plenty of coordination between all the weather units in the theatre to keep each other alerted when the weather takes a turn for the worst," said Capt. Laura Maddin, Weather Specialty Team deputy deployed from Hickam AFB, Hawaii.

During search and rescue missions, the CAOC's JPRC needs pinpoint weather forecasts for remote areas where coalition forces may be injured or in distress.

"Weather information is vital to rescue mission success. Whenever we have a personnel recovery, we always work with weather. When we need to rescue personnel in poor medical condition, they need to be rescued quickly. Weather can provide us with the right information at the right time," said Navy Lt. Dana Chaplin, JPRC Watch Support and HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot from Jacksonville Navy Air Station, Fla.

Preventing damage and injuries can make this a fulfilling career for Airmen in the weather business, but there is also the benefit of international camaraderie.

"What I enjoy the most ... are the people that we come in contact with on a daily basis. We work with all branches of service as well as the many coalition partners who have joined the United States in the war against terrorism," Sergeant Magnuson said.