Dover AFB Weather Flight gives Airmen heads up

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. James Wilkinson
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Stand-up comedian George Carlin once joked, "Weather forecast for tonight: Dark, continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning."

Although his comical forecast is quite accurate, it is a bit too vague for the needs of aircrews that depend upon timely and precise climate information. It is the mission of eight Airmen and one civilian here to provide Dover aircrews with timely, precise weather forecasting 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week, 365 days-a-year.

The 436th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight provides the 436th Airlift Wing protection against the elements through a variety of ways.

"We integrate weather observations and forecast into all aspects of the wing mission to include operations, maintenance and personnel; accurately forecasting severe weather and providing vital data during crisis situations is a prime example," said Master Sgt. David Jordan, 436th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight chief, who added that the flight is capable of a lot more than just forecasting severe climates. "We can also do golf forecasts!"

On a daily basis, the flight observes weather and provides five-day forecasts for Dover Air Force Base. With the possibility of severe weather, they issue weather advisories and warnings via radio, computer and telephone to protect base resources and inform local aircrews of "no-go" weather in which flight operations and training cannot be conducted.
The Airmen in the shop hold the Air Force Specialty Code of 1W0X1 and describe their career field as a highly technical and very challenging career field, taking years of training to become proficient.

"The challenge itself is making a good forecast," said Tech. Sgt. Chad Smith, 436th OSS Weather Flight NCO in charge. "Almost nothing is a given. One little atmospheric or topographic parameter can change a good forecast into a not-so-good forecast."

One of the flight's responsibilities is to conduct weather briefings to all aircrews before flying. During these briefs, weather personnel are able to accurately forecast conditions for aircrews within 25 nautical miles of airspace surrounding their specific flight paths and within 5,000 feet above or below flight paths, according to Sergeant Smith.

The Weather Flight provides weekly weather briefings to the wing and operations group commanders as well to inform them of upcoming weather that could possibly impact the mission.

"One commander I had while assigned to Charleston Air Force Base (S.C.) liked to watch the Weather Channel or National Weather Service and compare their forecasts to ours," said Sergeant Smith. "We were more accurate 99 percent of the time."

To obtain such accurate readings, the Weather Flight uses an assortment of equipment including hardware, software, manual and handheld sensors and lasers, and a collection of DoD weather Web sites that help them interpret the most current conditions.

Digital sensors positioned on the flightline provide the personnel with wind speed, air pressure and temperature, satellite data supplies clouds patterns both locally and worldwide, and Doppler weather radars sense motion within thunderstorms, which can be used to forecast tropical storm impacts to the base.

According to some of these weather experts, computers help, but it's always important to have a back-up just in case.

Some of this back-up includes handheld laser rangefinders that assist weather personnel in detecting ranges of distant objects for visibility charts and cloud ceilings. Other handheld apparatus, such as the Kestrel, detect temperature, dew point, wind speed, humidity and air pressure in the event electronic equipment is unavailable or fails.

"The art of weather observing and forecasting is being lost with the continued use of computer programs," said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Grega, 436th OSS Weather Flight assistant NCO in charge. "Computers help us do our jobs, but sometimes the touch of a human is far more beneficial than any computer can be. Just because our computers stop working doesn't mean weather stops happening."

While in deployed environments, weather personnel - if deploying to uncharted areas - are responsible for establishing weather maps of the surrounding landmarks and terrain to assist them in doing their job.

The flight has the critical role of helping provide weather data to the Wing Crisis Action and Wing Emergency Management Teams to help assess weather variables that may be involved in emergency scenarios. They can also pass real-time weather information from anywhere in the world to aircrews via radio, if needed.

"The most critical part of the job to me is ensuring that everyone is informed of expected and actual weather conditions for resource protection and safety of flight," said Sergeant Grega.

So for this small group of weather warriors, accurately forecasting the weather is paramount, and unlike George Carlin; they take weather