An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Predicting the unpredictable: Weathering Mother Nature

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt Jessica C. Adams
  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
With 21st century technology in every pocket, it is easy to fall into the illusion that people have mastered the ability to control their world.  But a single glance out on an unexpected thunderstorm and the memory of a forgotten umbrella reminds one of just how many aspects in life remain out of grasp, even something as seemingly mundane as the weather. 

In the 2nd Operations Support Squadron weather flight their daily task is to predict the unpredictable.  

As rain pours upon the flightline in great, grey sheets, the 2nd OSS weather flight is lit brightly with yellow, green and blue colored weather charts moving across the screens.  Their task is to know this storm well enough to provide mission-essential information.

"Today I am forecasting weather for our aircrew on takeoff, landing and anywhere they're going," says Staff Sgt. Jeff Cleghorn, 2nd OSS airfield weather integration function NCO-in-charge. "On top of that, since the weather is really bad today, I'm giving them up-to-the-minute updates, trying to give them a way to get their training done."

On a day when the average person only feels capable of drinking a warm cup of tea, flight crews demand frequent weather reports in the hopes they can find some small window of time to shoot off and into the mission.  

"If we give them bad weather, they try to make it work. They don't want to cancel.  And besides, sometimes we get it wrong," Cleghorn concedes with honesty. 

Nature is a humbling force, reminding men of the unpredictability of life. Yet, weather directly affects so many aspects of the mission.  Barksdale depends upon its weathermen to stay informed and able to respond. When ominous storms loom on the horizon, Barksdale turns to the 2nd OSS weather flight and the 26th Operational Weather Squadron for direction.

"When it comes to severe weather, a lot of big decisions are based on forecasts," said Cleghorn.  "Job satisfaction is definitely there, but it comes with a responsibility and a pressure behind it. Because weather is not a perfect science, sometimes even textbook examples of severe weather can play out to be not so bad, and then we have to answer for that."

Even with the best knowledge and state-of-the-art technology, a forecast is still a prediction, a suggestion of what probably will happen. 

"We like to joke in the weather community that when you have two different forecasters in a room, you're going to get three different forecasts," said Capt. Christopher Von Almen, 26th OWS bravo flight commander. "It's just that ambiguous a lot of times. We know the general dynamics and everything that goes into making a weather system, but each system is completely different."

Every base weather flight works in conjunction with an Operational Weather Squadron.  At Barksdale, the 2nd OSS weather flight remains in close communication with the 26th OWS. One of three operational weather squadrons in the continental United States, the 26th OWS supervises weather in the Southeast region of the United States.

"As far as communicating with Barksdale goes, the main thing is it starts days in advance," said Von Almen.  "When we identify a severe system is going to come through, usually about 72 hours out, we'll actually start talking to the forecaster at the 2nd OSS weather flight.  When they've identified the threat, they'll just fine tune it over and over and over again. As we see it get closer and closer - so instead of days out, now we're expecting it within hours - then we'll start to talk about issuing the base warnings and advisories, based on the intensity of the weather event."

On the weather floor in the 26th OWS, dozens of Airmen monitor four screens each, their eyes darting between differing charts of moving colors. Once their updates enter the forecast, the information is able to be briefed to the aircrews and, if necessary, the base at large.

"The weather flight is that eyes forward piece," said Von Almen. "We forecast all over the U.S.; therefore it's crucial to have that weather flight at the base."

"They coordinate with us. We advise them, and they use that as guidance," agrees Cleghorn back at the 2nd OSS weather flight.  "For instance, with this frontal system coming through here today, we are expecting a possibility for severe weather all through here," he gestures to the map on his screen as his finger traces through western Arkansas and Louisiana. "Rather than individual weather flights issuing warnings for all of this severe weather, we advise the hub, the 26th OWS, and they put it out for the whole Southeast region. That way, we ensure everything is considered, and no one is missing anything. We won't have one base out in the middle of nowhere that does not know what they are doing."

A siren goes off, and Cleghorn's explanation is punctured by calls of "severe weather moving in."  This is, expectedly, not a dull day in the 2nd OSS weather flight.  But even days when the base is not flooded with water, the weather flight is busy charting nature. For the 2nd OSS weather flight and the 26th OWS, it's always a matter of trying to predict the unpredictable.