Combat weather: More than just forecasting highs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brian Jones
  • 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Monday, hot, 109. Tuesday, hot, 110. The rest of the week, extremely hot.

Some people may think a deployment to a desert in Southwest Asia would be a weather forecaster's dream -- same forecast, different day. However, the 363rd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron combat weather team does more than predict the hot versus really hot desert days.

The combat weather team plays an integral role in the Operation Southern Watch mission by providing mission forecasts for every coalition aircraft flying from the base's runways.

"What we do is absolutely essential," said 1st Lt. Chris Lovett, the weather flight commander deployed from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. "Our customers expect us to tell them exactly what's going to happen weatherwise and exactly when it's going to happen."

Weather conditions at this forward-deployed location can determine whether or not a sortie ever gets off the ground. "Ultimately we make the go, no-go decision (whether) weather conditions will allow the completion of a mission," said Master Sgt. Alton Stiverson, the weather station operations chief deployed from Barksdale AFB, La. "Everything from high winds to significant cloud cover can cause a mission to be cancelled."

During the summer, rain is hardly a concern for the weather flight. In the desert it is the wind that causes the most headaches for aircrews and forecasters. "Desert winds are extremely unpredictable," said Lovett. "The desert contains vast areas where data is unavailable. This makes it difficult to determine how subtle changes in temperature will impact wind speed and direction."

The many different U.S. and coalition aircraft involved in the Operation Southern Watch mission also present challenges to the weather team. "Each aircraft has different weather sensitivities," said Stiverson. "Aircraft fly at different altitudes where wind and other weather elements can vary greatly."

Another aspect that would be unique at home stations, but is part of the everyday routine here is predicting "space weather." "We have aircraft that fly at high altitudes," said Stiverson. "Because of that, we need to forecast atmospheric disturbances that can disrupt communications."

While this combat weather team is ultimately responsible for supporting the OSW flying mission, it also plays a part in weather forecasts that are issued from an Air Force weather hub halfway around the world.

The 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw AFB, S.C., depends on weather data provided by this location to issue the official forecast for the area of responsibility. "We are considered the eyes forward for the hub," said Stiverson. "Our input is critical to the hub doing their job."

So whether it is getting a read on unpredictable desert winds, forecasting anomalies in space or providing essential data to a weather hub half a world away, the 363rd EOSS combat weather team is doing far more than telling desert warriors what they already know, that it is hot.