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Weather: Predicting the unpredictable

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taryn Butler
  • 386th Air Expedtionary Wing

From dust to lightning, the 407th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight ensures all personnel and coalition partners are aware of the local weather and can prepare accordingly.

The mission of the 407th EOSS Weather Flight is to converge and exploit weather intelligence with joint and coalition partners to anticipate mission impacts and drive behavior at U.S. Central Command’s theater gateway.

“The weather flight enables combat power by delivering weather support to all permanently-assigned and transient flying units, 24/7,” said Capt. Shane Cox, 407th EOSS weather flight commander. “(We) mitigate environmental threats through integration of every phase of operations planning and execution, maximizing windows of opportunity and minimizing risk to personnel and resources.”

Airmen assigned to the weather flight use satellite imagery, along with observations and radar imagery, to get a jump on incoming weather that may be detrimental to operations and assets, but the lack of data availability downrange can be a hurdle – especially when dust is involved.

“Forecasting the timing and precise effects of dust events in Kuwait is extremely difficult, due to lack of reliable observation sites upstream and volatility in data,” Cox said. “Additionally, there are a multitude of source regions for dust in almost every direction surrounding Kuwait, with finer sand located to the southwest in Saudi Arabia and clay/silt located over central Iraq. We maintain a database of historical dust events in order to hone in on the indicators for a dust storm, but every event seems to be slightly different.”

At home station, weather Airmen have access to plenty of data to use for forecasting. However, gathering data is challenging downrange.

“There are thousands of weather stations across the U.S. that gives us a lot of data,” said Master Sgt. Randy Jones, 407th EOSS weather flight chief. “Over here, we have about five percent of the data that we get in the U.S. We have to be able to interpolate that data and give just as accurate of a forecast here as we would in the U.S. It involves a lot more thought into the dynamics, but we’re trained to be able to forecast anywhere in the world.”

Despite the difficulties, Senior Airmen Matthew Morris and Kyle Hartley, 407th EOSS weather operations forecasters, put their skills to use tracking a dust storm that moved toward the installation March 12. By combining tools and available data, they successfully predicted the storm’s course.

“There’s a little bit of a margin of error with the placement of the satellite on our map, because it’s in space,” said Morris. “Some of the stations were getting hit by the storm already, (and) I was looking at what kind of winds they were seeing and what kind of visibility they were seeing from it. It’s easier to see more accurately the timing of the dust storm if you can get to observation points that are getting hit. So, that’s what I was using alongside the satellite image.”

After assessing and analyzing the data coming in, Hartley and Morris issued a weather watch and advisory to the installation, allowing personnel to take the necessary precautions.

“We have a good team that works together,” Hartley said. “All three of us were doing the math on this on this dust storm, trying to figure out what time it's actually going to hit us. To be within 15 minutes of anything in this area where it's so limited is a huge win in. We don't often get here because there are a lot of surprises with weather in the AOR.”

The weather flight supports 35 aircraft and approximately 13,000 personnel assigned to the Department of Defense and coalition partners. It’s imperative they deliver timely, accurate and relevant weather intelligence to anticipate mission impacts across the base.

“Air Force weather is focused not just on resource protection, but also the public safety, the equipment and operations,” said Jones. “We're all tied into the mission. For us, the data that we provide makes sure the mission is a success.”