Air Force Weather: Squadron forecasts, studies weather to keep servicemembers safe
Last year, east El Paso experienced a rare weather incident during which three children in an inflatable jump house were picked up by a dust devil and carried a distance of three houses and 10 feet over a fence. The Air Force Weather Squadron at Biggs Army Airfield developed a study on the unusual event, which was a reminder of the unpredictability and potential threat weather can have on all communities.
Carlos Nieves, a civilian meteorologist assigned to the unit, is part of an office that developed that study because of its uniqueness. The unit, however, does much more than study weather anomalies.
“We are involved in the planning process of all flying missions, field training exercises,” said Air Force Capt. Brandi Swanson, who manages daily administrative affairs for the unit. Usually, any unit that comes through here on maneuvers we support. We get to be involved in the planning process of all flying missions. And, we help them carry it out and make sure the weather will allow them to complete their assignments.
“We also help units plan missions so they can be carried out safely,” added Swanson, who has managed the office for five years. “And, if the weather does not cooperate we help them re-plan for when more favorable conditions may exist.”
While Swanson’s job is heavily administrative, she has a team that takes readings, interprets the data and provides forecasts to allow troop training in the areas from Fort Bliss to Doña Ana Range Complex, N.M., and beyond. One of those team members is Senior Airman Paul Weathersby.
“The main job here is to put out a daily forecast, as well as an outlook for the week,” he said. “This includes safety of flying and safety of operations at the airfield here and at McGregor Range.”
Weathersby boils down his mission to one element.
“Our job is basically safety. Day to day, what I do is come up with a forecast from scratch. It’s similar to what other meteorologist do, but we are actually more accurate. We’re more accurate, because in the Air Force you have to be more specific in terms of for whom you are developing the report,” Weathersby said, referring to pilots and troops on maneuvers.
“There would be more detail, such as, ‘the temperature will be in the 30s and if there will be severe icing, the mission is a no-go.’ If that happens in the military, then we call off the entire show,” said Weathersby.
Weathersby said he was attracted to meteorology “because it’s kind of a gray area. Everything else in the military is pretty much black or white. … You come up with a forecast product and you use your tools and all the reasoning you have. But, at the end of the day, nobody can really tell you if it’s right or wrong until it happens. You definitely have to use your creativity.”
Nieves agrees with Weathersby’s assessment. And, to that end will enter graduate school in the near future to get a master’s degree in weather modeling.
“In the weather service we want to own the weather, because as Weathersby said, ‘it’s so incredibly crucial to military operations,’” said Nieves.
Nieves stops short in allowing a belief in the ability of one day controlling the weather.
“That’s hard to say, because we are talking about predictability,” said Nieves. “When you tinker with the weather, as many scientists would like to do, there are mixed results. That’s one of those areas where we are still in the beginning, as a process. There’s a lot to learn. So, whether we want to exploit and own the weather, manipulate it and control it, I think, is a good 100 years away.”
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