MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --
In Montana’s erratic and occasionally harsh climate, weather plays a major role on the mission, but with accurate and timely weather updates, Airmen can fulfill their jobs in a safe and effective manner.
The 341st Operational Support Squadron weather flight is responsible for analyzing weather conditions, preparing forecasts, issuing weather warnings and briefing weather information for Malmstrom operations and its 13,800 square-mile missile complex.
“We forecast the weather for the base and all missions that occur in the Air Force’s largest missile complex,” said Senior Airman Greyson-Ann Thornburg, 341st OSS weather forecaster. “In addition to base-side weather, we forecast for the helicopter squadron, convoys, missile maintainers and any other missions occurring within the missile complex.”
Forecasters are able to provide this information through the combination of weather models and prior technical training.
“We accomplish our job by looking at weather models and seeing what the weather is doing and how those models are trending,” said Senior Airman Corbyn Peterson, 341st OSS weather forecaster. “With the vast weather knowledge we are trained with, we forecast what weather systems are going to do in the future to help better support our mission’s weather sensitivities.”
One way they apply these models is by sending out terminal aerodrome forecasts.
“These TAFs are 30-hour forecasts, which go out three times per day,” said Peterson. “The aviators in the 40th Helicopter Squadron are the main people to utilize this. They’re able to access this through their software and have a clear outlook on the weather.”
In addition to models, forecasters have additional means to examine the weather, such as flight line sensor technology and Kestrels.
“We have a sensor on the flight line that measures winds, humidity and other information we need,” said Peterson. “It also measures for atmospheric changes, lightning and how far out it is, which is crucial during the summer when we get lightning storms.”
The Kestrel is a small, handheld weather sensor, which enables forecasters to make physical observations of the weather.
Since Malmstrom’s primary mission occurs in the missile field, the weather flight is responsible for tracking a wide range of weather.
“Our job here can be difficult because we are forecasting for such a large region,” said Thornburg. “There are a lot of different terrain effects, as well as different elevations and temperatures. There could be a completely different pressure system in one missile squadron than another or even on base.”
Like every Airman, weather forecasters end up playing a vital role in the mission of nuclear surety.
“We support nuclear surety through resource protection,” said Peterson. “We operate expensive equipment here to support the missile mission, especially our people.
“Mother Nature can be nurturing, but it loves to have a ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ mentality sometimes and loves to cause damage, particularly hail and high winds,” Peterson continued. “Our main mission here is to ensure those in the missile complex can focus on their job without the concern of unpredictable weather.”