Whether it changes or stays the same -- it's still weather

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Accurately predicting the unpredictable might sound inconceivable, but it's what Air Force weather forecasters do.

Be it rain, snow, fog, monsoon, typhoon or clear and sunny -- no matter the conditions -- it's the forecaster's job to protect assets, save lives, keep pilots flying and support the Air Force's mission.

Master Sgt. Brian Nuss, the 51st Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight chief at Osan Air Base, said the job might sound easy, but weather is something that is always changing.

Nuss said Korean weather is the hardest he has ever worked with in his seven years of forecasting.

"There isn't a lot of severe weather or thunderstorms here, but it can still change quickly," he said. "That makes it difficult to predict."

Despite the challenges, it's something that must be done and done right, and Osan's weather flight is just a small piece of the bigger picture, Nuss said.

Weather flights fall under the Air Force Weather Agency, which works in partnership with the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continually improve the developing science.

The Air Force Weather Agency has hubs all over the world, and these hubs are used to send out weather reports to different bases falling under each region. Osan's hub is located at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

These reports provide a basic snapshot of what is going to happen over the next few days and how it will likely affect the 51st Fighter Wing and the tenant units here, Nuss said. The weather flight takes those reports and tailors them to Osan's mission.

Their mission: to provide timely and accurate tactical weather support relevant to the needs of the 51 Fighter Wing and tenant units in order to support continuous air operations, he said. "If they're flying, we're here."

This 12-person team has more than 70 years of knowledge and with the help of models, technology and daily observations they are correct about 90 percent of the time, Nuss said.

Every base's weather flight has three elements - staff, airfield services and the mission weather element. Each element's role is giving the commanders immediate feedback if something changes, and sometimes, they have bad news, he said.

The key component to the flight is the mission weather element, which puts forecasters in each of the flying squadrons.

Staff Sgt. Tricia Briggs works in this capacity, and she provides detailed forecasts to the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 36th Fighter Squadron.

"Three hours before every flight, I provide a mission execution forecast," she said. "It's an assessment based on models and predictions that covers the entire area the pilots will fly that day."

It gives pilots everything from cloud ceilings to wind direction to wind speeds and how low clouds will be, Briggs said. "It's an art. We have to paint the best picture we can."

The pilots depend on their accuracy.

"The weather here is very dynamic and they ensure we have a good mental picture of what the conditions are going to be like before we take off," said Capt. Kevin "Igloo" Belcher, a pilot with the 25th FS.

"There is a certain expectation with planning a mission and how the weather will affect it," he said. "More often than not there are adjustments made on the fly when conditions change."

The in-squadron weather experts are there to provide real-time updates whenever it's needed. Briggs said she enjoys being in constant contact with the pilots and having such a large role in the mission here.

If conditions get worse while pilots prepare for their flights, then it becomes a safety call whether the pilots complete the mission or get grounded.

"It's a great job and I like knowing I'm keeping our pilots safe," she said. "It feels good when they come back from a mission and say my forecasts were spot on."

Senior Airman Zachary Kelly is filling one of the airfield services positions. He has been a forecaster for about four years, and said visibility is the biggest issue at Osan.

He explained there are different landmarks around base used during physical visibility checks, or observations. In some cases during the morning he said visibility, due to fog or haze, can be so bad he can barely see 25 feet away.

"Pilots never like when we ground their aircraft due to visibility but it's part of what we do to ensure everyone's safety," Nuss said. "We can only predict the weather; we can't control it."

After the numerous complaints he has heard over the years he coined the phrase: "We are in sales. If you want production, then call the chaplain," he said with a smile.

Weather is something that never sleeps, and the Air Force forecaster's job of predicting and keeping leaders informed is something that never ends.