WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Weather is warming up, rivers are filling and local wild flowers are blooming. It’s time to start making outdoor plans – if only it would stop raining.
There’s nothing that will change the forces of Mother Nature; however, having the information to plan around her moods can make a huge difference in how the day goes.
Whether it is providing lightning notifications for Airmen on the flightline or briefing the group commanders about impacts to the installation, the 509th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) weather flight personnel take on the role of global forecasters.
For the aircraft and Total Force team assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, the weather flight’s mission is to support operations for a global strike-capable force as well as the base community. To consolidate the many aspects of their job, the office is broken down into three weather operations sections.
Foremost is missions operations, which is geared toward supporting global operations for all aviation assets assigned to Whiteman, regardless of where they operate across the globe, to include any transient aircraft.
“Our focus is mission forecast products, planning weather and providing operational outlooks,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Cecil Anderson, the 509th OSS weather operations flight chief. “This support can vary heavily depending on the objective of each sortie.
“It could be anything from a tactical decision aid for weapons acquisition with an A-10 to a global forecast for a 30-hour B-2 mission,” added Anderson.
Like the conditions for severe weather can dampen a good trip, there are many factors forecasters assigned to the 509th OSS must consider to help make the pilots’ missions as smooth as possible.
“Although we focus heavily on state-side operations, we’ll support the aircraft wherever it goes,” stated Anderson. “While we are forecasting thunderstorms in Florida, the next day we might be forecasting for volcanic ash clouds and typhoons off in the Pacific Ocean.”
With specialized equipment, such as a deployable weather station, also known as the TMQ-53 Tactical Meteorological Observing System, or a weather sensor, known as a Kestral, these Airmen are capable of deploying with the aircraft and providing support while operating in an austere location.
“That is one of the most challenging parts of the job,” added Anderson. “How weather happens in one part of the world is not necessarily how it develops on the other side. Our job is to understand that so the mission happens.”
With the multitude of meteorological conditions that can have an effect on flight operations, knowing what to expect allows the mission planners and aircrews to safely adjust the route if necessary.
“Factors such as flight winds can impact everything from fuel loads to mission timing,” remarked Anderson. “Turbulence, icing, and thunderstorm locations and intensity can also have a major impact.
“Knowing where these conditions will develop allows mission-critical adjustments with other aircraft, especially air-refueling assets,” added Anderson. “Staying informed ensures that the aircrew comes home safely, and that is what the Air Force is about: safety, security and accomplishing the mission.”
The second operations section is airfield operations, which is focused on taking care of the installation. In addition to analyzing the official airfield forecast, they are also weather observers.
This enables them to visually identify weather conditions such as cloud heights and coverage, visibilities on the runway, and many other weather conditions to ensure that air traffic control can take care of any aircrew in the airspace.
Their responsibilities include: resource protection for the airfield and the entire base community, staff support for base events like picnics and air shows and taking weather observations for aircraft using the airfield. They also handle all of the installation’s watches, warnings and advisories.
“Our award-winning weather flight looks out for every person on Whiteman, their families, the surrounding community, even the National Weather Service, every single day,” said Lt. Col. Keith Butler, the 509th Operations Support Squadron commander. “These professionals work around the clock, keeping all of us up to speed with rapidly-changing weather conditions that affect both lives and property. This allows base leadership to make quick and accurate decisions that keep everyone safe, the jets secure and our mission effective.”
As the spectrum of weather varies quite a bit, the last section is training. Both the newcomer, or pipeline student, and the seasoned forecasters are educated in a broad spectrum of natural sciences.
Some of the areas they cover include space weather analysis, such as geo-magnetic storm analysis, solar flares; tropical weather analysis, which includes tropical cyclones and hurricanes; oceanographical analysis, which entails measuring wave heights and sea surface temperatures; and lastly traditional meteorology or weather forecasting.
“Due to the global nature of the B-2 and the wide range of operations here, the training section ensures all of the forecasters and staff remain current on forecast techniques, tactical equipment and data analysis,” said Anderson. “Weather is a growing science, and they are responsible for ensuring that newly developed techniques and forecasting skills are folded into operations.”
Staffed with less than 15 Airmen, their team is capable of anything from pinpointing when thunderstorms are going to hit the airfield so an aircraft can launch, to being flexible enough to deliver a spot-on forecast for operations across the globe.
“Weather forecasting is a challenging skill and science, and no two days are ever the same,” said Anderson. “To be good at this job, you have to know and understand how the atmosphere works, and the forecasting team at Whiteman is one of the best.
“I think their selection as Air Force Global Strike Command’s Weather Flight of the Year for 2016 speaks to the high caliber Airman taking care of Whiteman,” hailed Anderson.