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Cloudy with the chance of mission success

  • Published
  • By Technical Sgt. Patrick Evenson
  • 386 AEW Public Affairs

Asking about the weather might be an unimaginative way to break the ice for most of us. It’s low-hanging fruit to break the silence with a coworker in an elevator or an acquaintance at a holiday party.

For the Airmen of the 407th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, Weather Flight, asking about the weather doesn’t produce just a throwaway comment about the clouds.

These subject matter experts at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, use the latest technology to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts and communicate weather information to commanders, pilots and base personnel, so that every mission goes off without a hitch.

“The majority of our job is just watching and making sure all the weather is fine for base [operations], and sending out advisories anytime we get weather, as far as winds, rain or lightning wise,” said Airman 1st Class Emmanuel Hopkins, a weather forecaster for 407th EOSS.

One of the unique weather phenomena in the desert climate of Kuwait, that could be the deciding factor of whether a mission goes as planned, is dirt particles in the air that cause poor visibility.

“Depending on the different classifications of the aircraft and pilots, they can't fly through certain visibility restrictors, such as dust, fog or really bad rain,” said Staff Sgt. Keith Christenson, weather forecaster for the 407th EOSS.

“We'll get calls from base leadership, all the way down to pilots,” said Christenson. “Flights get delayed because of visibility but they want to take-off as soon as possible.”

Winds are a big deal for almost everybody. The hangars, for example, can't open up in anything over 18 knots. “So if we start getting any kind of windy conditions, they'll be calling us too,” said Christenson.

According to both Christenson and Hopkins, things can go from extremely boring on clear days, to busy very quickly. “We're just running around like chickens with a little bit more organization,” said Christenson.

Between taking weather readings and answering the constant hail of phone calls, the weather flight has its hands full. “On those days you sit there looking at the computer and when you look up it's already time to go home, because you've been so busy doing stuff,” said Christenson.

The Weather Flight has a hand in every mission that goes out of Ali Al Salem. Before one goes on a road trip back home, the weather is a huge part of any vacation planning. As such, before each flight the pilots and crew are briefed on the weather conditions along their route and what they might expect.

“Almost 50% of our job to me feels like coordination, because we're always working with somebody,” said Hopkins, who deals with not just U.S. Air Force and Army pilots but coalition partners as well.

“We get direct feedback on things that our customers don't really like to fly in,” said Hopkins. “And things that will make them look towards other alternatives and other routes.”

“Being out here is so much more different than being stateside, because you're constantly problem solving working on your feet,” said Christenson. “They have to get up and get their mission done.”

Keeping constant surveillance on weather patterns and their potential hazards is an important part in the life of an airman of the 407th Weather Flight, to ensure not only the safety of airmen at The Rock, but to ensure the effectiveness of every mission. However, the most sophisticated weather equipment and data collection system can't top what the naked human eye can see.

“I think that's probably the best part of the job, being able to step outside after a shift, and observing with your own eyes what you’ve spent the whole day looking at on screen at just numbers,” said Hopkins.