Weather flight provides mission critical forecasts

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shaun Emery
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The mission's planned, the crew's ready to go, the aircraft waits on the tarmac, but Mother Nature still has her say on whether the mission is a go.

The job of predicting the weather's effect on the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing falls on the 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron's weather flight.

Tracking weather variables from high temperatures to wind speed and direction, the weather flight provides a clear weather picture for flying crews and members of the 386th AEW.

"Our goal is to provide unmatched weather support for airlift and transient missions in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom," said Master Sgt. Mark Gadzala, noncommissioned officer in charge of the weather flight.

Providing accurate forecasts takes an around the clock effort. Every hour members of the weather flight make weather observations using a tactical observation unit. The unit collects data on wind speed and direction, temperature, visibility levels and other readings essential to aircrews.

"Bad weather is one of the biggest limiting factors when it comes to a mission," Sergeant Gadzala said. "There are going to be days where we have mission limiting weather, but we use our detection methods to see what's coming our way so missions can be planned accordingly."

Putting together an accurate forecast takes a collaborative effort that reaches all the way back to the states for information. The 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. provides daily weather information using meteorological and satellite data. Their forecast information is sent to the weather flight here. The two units share information and agree on a final 24-hour forecast. That information is then passed on to 386th AEW leadership and briefed to aircrews departing on missions.

"The weather flight is a critical part of our mission in both planning and executing," said Lt. Col. Keith Green, 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations. "Looking forward, ahead and up at the weather in different locations in the AOR helps us plan ahead and make decisions on what resources we can send."

Putting together an accurate sight-picture can be challenging, said Sergeant Gadzala.

"Although we all look at the same computer data, everyone forecasts and observes weather differently. Forecasting is more of an art than science. Nothing is definite. There are hundreds of factors that go into making up any moment weather wise. One factor can change and the outcome is completely different," he said.

Although it would seem weather forecasters in the desert would have it easy, often not having to account for precipitation, the climate and location here presents its own unique challenges.

"The dust is by far our biggest challenge here," Sergeant Gadzala said. "We have a large source region in the Northwest. When those winds start blowing, that dust can travel hundreds of miles. What's challenging is that one day you'll have winds with six miles of visibility and the next day you'll have those same winds but just one mile of visibility. It's our job to try and figure it all out."

If the hardest job the weather flight has is predicting dust, then by far their easiest is predicting temperature.

"It's hot, every day," Sergeant Gadzala said. "And heat affects everyone on base."

Be it wind, dust or heat, weather is a factor that affects the 386th AEW's ability to get troops and cargo to ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, safely and on time.

Trying to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature, the 386th EOSS weather flight provides an accurate forecast for mission success.