On the radar with Whiteman weatherman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry
  • 509th Public Affairs Bomb Wing
Weather can be an unpredictable and uncontrollable force of nature. This makes it all the more difficult for the 509th Operation Support Squadron weather flight to do its job.

This flight is responsible for predicting what happens before it happens. Because the weather can change at any given time, it is difficult to always provide an accurate prediction.

The members of this unit are constantly keeping watch on the skies and oceans to ensure Whiteman gets the information it needs to be prepared for all kinds of conditions.

Weather personnel are responsible for flight planning, resource protection and all watch and warning advisories, said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Watts, 509th OSS NCOIC of mission and airfield services. They brief pilots preparing to take off from the base, giving them a weather outlook. This includes air refueling tracks and range forecasts; if the pilots are flying overseas, they brief on ditch headings, wave heights and sea-swell heights.

In addition to their work with Air Force brethren, said Watts, weather personnel also communicate with the Army and Navy to give and receive weather data. In addition to providing the weather report for B-2 pilots, they perform all the forecasting for Army aircraft, A-10 Thunderbolts and all personnel on base.

Many other factors can affect the Whiteman mission at a moment's notice.One minor factor can cause a change in the atmosphere, said 1st Lt. Jose Melendez, 509th Operation Support Squadron weather wing officer.

"In South Korea, there are rice paddies, (fields full of water where farmers grow rice), that cause fog in the atmosphere, which affects the weather," said Melendez. "All it takes is one factor to make a change in the entire atmosphere. In an ocean, anything that happens on one level, at some point is going to reflect on another level, which can change the dynamics. These are reasons why weather is so unpredictable."

In addition to the unpredictable nature of weather, , pilots must account for the changing weather conditions when they are in the air, and be aware of the effects it may have on the aircraft, said Senior Airman Heather Rieck, 509th Operation Support Squadron weather journeyman.

For example, in the 1950s, the dangers of icing were not fully understood, and therefore, Airmen could not adequately protect their aircraft..

For aircraft flying in the freezing temperatures thousands of feet above the surface of the earth, icing is a constant threat.

"The T-38 jets cannot fly through clouds because depending on how cold it is, it may cause icing which may weigh it down; this plane is not equipped to de-ice ," said Rieck, "Lots of planes have the de-icing equipment but back in the '50s they did not."

Weather personnel in the '50s were not equipped to handle certain weather effects that plagued aircraft, said Melendez The work was difficult but they were dedicated enough to get the job done and provide answers for Whiteman Air Force Base.

Weather professionals used slide rulers to calculate dew points, atmospheric pressure and wind speeds. They employed anemometers to pick up wind speeds, but these instruments were not accurate most of the time.

Equipment has evolved to the point where one machine, the TMQ-53, can perform the functions of both the slide ruler and anemometer, enabling personnel to achieve more accurate readings. Kertrel sensors and radar also have improved weather technicians' ability to provide information on weather patterns.

Weather personnel have a significant role in the Whiteman mission, as pilots would be unable to complete their mission without pi-reps or warning advisories. Whiteman needs weather advisories to plan for these inconveniences that occur throughout the year. At the end of the day, Whiteman's weathermen are another team responsible for keeping the B-2 in the air.