OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
Whether you are aboard an aircraft carrier in the western Pacific, deployed in the Middle East, or getting the kids ready for school at Aviano Air Base, Italy, you have heard their voices on the American Forces Network detailing your local forecast.
The responsibility for these globe-spanning AFN forecasts fall on the shoulders of only five Airmen assigned to the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Tucked away in an unassuming corner office of the 557th WW headquarters building, these Airmen are given the task of localizing weather around the globe for both the warfighter and their families. Together they compile weather data and disseminate location-specific forecasts via AFN radio and television, as well as the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
The broadcasters, who can spend a year to 18 months in AFN Weather section, are selected from a pool of volunteers from the 2nd Weather Squadron.
“It’s a really unique experience to actually provide weather support for AFN worldwide,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Whitson, 2nd WS forecaster. “It’s such a unique job, there’s literally only five of us in this section out of the entire Department of Defense providing these forecasts.”
Each day the AFN weather broadcasters provide the day’s high and low temperature, as well as pertinent weather phenomenon for DOD and Department of State audiences that span 81 geographically-separated locations.
Recorded forecasts consist of two-day segments that can be seen with animated graphics on both the AFN weather website and AFN television channels. Print forecasts, reserved for the Stars and Stripes publication, cover a four-day period.
Forecast data collection is a collaborative effort with weather information coming from other weather squadrons within the 557th WW.
“We pull data provided from several weather squadrons and model data that’s generated from the Air Force Weather Web Services to compile our own forecasts,” Whitson said.
The AFN has been broadcasting news, entertainment and pertinent command information to a dispersed American audience for the past 75 years, with High Definition broadcasting beginning to emerge as the standard for its services.
Due to the expense of transitioning to HD, AFN had previously been unable to adapt to the HD standards that commercial counterparts have implemented over the years.
With the emergence of HD streaming, the weather broadcasters are able to abbreviate their forecasts to fit within the commercial break timeframe.
“With the HD upgrade we are now on all eight AFN channels overseas instead of just the main two channels,” said Staff Sgt. Owen Thompson, 2nd Weather Squadron forecaster. “We are able to fit into more commercial time slots since our shows are now 30 and 60 seconds versus 60 and 120 seconds.”
The AFN Weather Center migration to HD streaming is part of an ongoing effort to fully transition to the higher-quality product that started in 2016, when forecasters began using Storm Director Software, provided by AccuWeather, to ensure they were meeting industry standards in their weather broadcasts.
In addition to reaching a full AFN audience on a more frequent basis, HD streaming gives more flexibility to Air Force forecasters to customize and update their broadcasts in near real-time.
“We are able to create new shows and add new locations much faster now than with the previous software,” explained Thompson. “It allows for us to be more flexible and make changes on the fly.”
With this added flexibility and larger audience, AFN Weather Airmen can compile, analyze and disseminate more than 1,000 pieces of weather information to DOD and DOS customers daily.
“These one-of-a-kind forecasters at AFN Weather Center do an incredible job bringing accurate forecasts to DOD and DOS members and their dependents literally around the world every day,” said Lt. Col. Jack Evans, Commander of the 2nd WS.
Though the job of providing global forecasts to roughly 400,000 people may seem daunting, the 557th WW’s weather Airmen are ready and willing to meet that challenge head-on.