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380AEW Article

Predicting the unpredictable: 380 AEW weather warriors ensure smooth sailing

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The mission of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing never sleeps. Day or night, rain or shine, Airmen work to deliver airpower, defend the region, and develop relationships with Coalition partners.


However, what happens when the wind kicks up dust until Airmen can hardly see their own feet? What happens if atmospheric conditions prevent a pilot from delivering munitions, or worse, threaten the safety of the aircrew?


“Depending on the weather, it can severely degrade if not stop the mission,” said Staff Sgt. Caleb Custer, weather forecaster with the 380 Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather flight. “Depending on what’s going on, you could have turbulence so severe that it prevents aircraft from flying or dropping bombs.”


It is vital that Airmen are prepared and adapt to the rapidly changing conditions to keep the mission going, said Custer. The key to this adaptation is proper planning, which is where the forecasters fit into the overall mission puzzle.


“Weather is a key consideration for flight route planning and mission execution,” said Master Sgt. Randy Jones, 380 EOSS weather operations flight chief. “Without a legal weather brief, the aircraft could not even get off the ground, let alone into theatre.”


The work of a forecaster is not without its hurdles, however, said Custer. Changes in weather can affect different air frames in different ways, causing last-minute plan adjustments. But perhaps the most cumbersome difficulty is the nature of nature itself.


When Custer first arrived on-location with the 380th Expeditionary Wing, a thick bank of fog hit without warning. He watched the mist roll and creep over the flight line until it obscured most everything in view.


“It is one of my biggest frustrations with this job,” he said. “It can go from beautiful to completely horrible in the blink of an eye with no warning whatsoever.”


Even so, the unpredictable nature of the job is part of what lends it its allure, said Staff Sgt. Austin Young, 380 EOSS weather journeyman.


“It’s definitely interesting,” said Young. “It’s really challenging because it’s not a black and white answer. It’s not monotonous; weather changes all the time.”


The dynamic work of meteorology may be what attracts Airmen to the field and keeps them engaged in their work, but what keeps the operation running smoothly is the teamwork within the shop, said Young.


“If I don’t give a good shift change, the next guy won’t know the weather that’s going on,” said Young. “Teamwork alleviates the hassle on the next person because we have better communication and everything is cohesive.”


Between the challenges and rewards, the positives and negatives, an enormous benefit to being a forecaster is being so critical to mission success, said Young. But, as self-proclaimed “weather nerds,” Custer and Young agree that sometimes the best reward of the job is the field of study itself.


“I’m in love with weather,” said Custer. “It’s fantastic because everything is flowing and in motion. It’s like a symphony.”