Unique Location; Unique Forecasting

  • Published
  • By Detachment 2
  • 401st Air Expeditionary Wing Combat Weather Team Staff Report Camp
Along the war-torn southern border of Kosovo lies the quiet little town of Kacanik in the Kacanik Valley. The valley separates the Dinaric Alps from the Transylvanian Alps. Through this valley run both the Kacanik River and the main north-south road from Skopje, Macedonia into Kosovo. The road is the primary thoroughfare for commercial traffic between the two countries, and it is NATO's main military travel route.

Suddenly, and without warning on Jan. 15, the mountainside gave way sending an estimated 100,000 metric tons of rock and mud crashing down onto the road and river below. The impact was immediate as all travel along the route came to a standstill. Implications were significant for multinational forces stationed in Kosovo supporting NATO's Kosovo Forces operations.

Engineers from the Army's 36th Infantry Division at Camp Bondsteel were dispatched to assess the damage. One concern was the risk of blocking the river and flooding the valley. It seemed as fast as the engineers could clear the debris, more of the mountainside collapsed, sending boulders the size of trucks crashing down. The mountains were shrouded in snow, and spring was fast approaching.

Engineers were concerned that sliding would increase as the snow began to melt and spring rains saturated the ground. As their frustration grew, they needed to understand the impacts from melting snow and future rainfall, so they turned to the Air Force's deployed weather team, Task Force Talon, Det. 2, 401st Air Expeditionary Wing, Combat Weather Team at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo for assistance.

"Along with our regular duties to provide weather forecasting, for routine and special missions of TF Falcon, the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard and helicopter unit of TF Talon, we carry out some specific projects," said Lt. Col. Bill Darling, Combat Weather Team commander.

"They include the possible impact of the weather conditions, such as the development of the landslide near Kacanik and flood risks in Kosovo."

The team coordinated with the 21st Operational Weather Squadron at Sembach AB, Germany to create products that translated data into models depicting water saturation levels in the ground. The team made trips to the mountainside, scaling the hazardous slide area to measure snow pack, and assess ground water saturation levels. Using many of the 21st OWS's forecasting products and tools, they created scenarios of future weather events in preparing impact assessments for both the Army engineers and the senior staff.

As work on the mountainside continued, the weather team made visual over-flights of the area, and on-site measurements of saturation levels to provide the engineers the information they needed to successfully combat the sliding. The engineers came up with a plan to safely remove the slide and stabilize the mountainside.

This is my first mission overseas and everything about the country and the people is very interesting for me," said Senior Airman Matthew Bowers, member of the Combat Weather Team.

"I remember my first time outside the wire; that was the first time I really realized how much this place differs from my country."

Staff Sgt. Allen Thill, a Combat Weather Team forecaster for the past five years, recently returned from Operation Palmetto Ghost supporting drug interdiction and combat search and rescue efforts in Columbia, South America said he loves his job.

"This is my second tour to Kosovo. I am a traveler by nature. I have been all around the world with my job. I love the feedback I get from doing my job here as a mission is done successfully and the soldiers consider the impact our forecasts have on their success," he said. Lt. Maksym Nedria, KFOR Chronicle contributed to this article.