Weather flight keeps 'em flying

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bobby Yettman
  • 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs
There may be rain today and heat tomorrow, or snow today and dusty winds tomorrow. These are some of the conditions the nine-member Air Force weather flight must contend with at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Everyone needs to know what the weather is going to do, from the A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots who wonder if they will have enough visibility to see targets to the explosive ordnance disposal teams wondering when the season's first freeze will occur.

"We tell the people here what they can expect from the weather before it gets here," said Master Sgt. Mark Adams, the weather flight chief.

Any aircraft coming to, going from or flying near Bagram has communication with the weather flight to get constant updates on the weather. The weather flight monitors and briefs weather information for 11 different locations in the theater.

Monitoring such varying locations is not an easy task, Adams said. His job is part art and part science.

"The biggest challenge we face out here is probably the lack of records," he said. "For the last 30-plus years the Afghan people have been dealing with more important issues, like fighting wars, than the weather. That means we don't have the type of database we usually have to help us predict what the weather is going to do."

The time spent in one location can help forecasters predict the weather of that area, Adams said. With the nature of deployments, weather forecasters coming to this region do not have that type of first-hand knowledge available to them.

"About a month before I came here, I spent a lot of time preparing for this region, looking at the various weather patterns and such to give me a head start," Adams said.
Once on station, the new forecasters "soak up" as much information from their predecessors as possible about this challenging weather region.

"We're virtually in a bowl," Adams said. "We have mountains all around us, and we're sitting at the mouth of a valley. That, combined with our high elevation, can make predicting the weather very difficult."

Teamwork is one of the primary ways around some of the challenges the weather flight faces, Adams said.

"There are no single players in this flight," Adams said. "We operate in three different locations on Bagram, but we all meet twice a day to put our heads together and discuss the weather patterns."
People from the weather flight here communicate regularly with weather forecasters in the Central Air Forces' 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and the Navy Meteorological Operation Center in the Southwest Asia area of operation.

Forecasters, such as Staff Sgt. Paul Walker, work an average of 13 hours a day briefing pilots, taking weather observations and issuing warnings and advisories for different weather conditions.

"I spend about the first two hours after shift-change going over what already happened the night before," Walker said. "After that, it's a constant onslaught of tasks for the rest of the day."

Forecasting the weather has always been important to Walker, but making forecasts that directly affect Operation Enduring Freedom help him feel like he is somehow making more of a difference.

"When all of this began, I told them if something comes up, just tell me when and where, and I'll go," he said. "Being able to tell the pilots that they will be able to see to put their bombs on target is all I need to know."

The challenges faced by the weather flight just make work that much more fun, Walker said.
"I love what I do," he said. "It's a challenge every day I come in to work. I like that."
Besides forecasting the weather, flight airmen also operate a flag-flying program. They have a flagpole outside their office where people can fly a flag and take it back with them as a souvenir.

"Anyone can take pictures of the base." Adams said. "But to have their own flag that has flown over Afghanistan is something they can take back with them, fly at their own house and be proud of." (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)