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Weather flight: typhoon season, "it's show time"

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
In order to successfully fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace, the Air Force relies on the weather flights to provide accurate information on one of mother nature's sporadic children: weather.

The main tasks of the weather flight are resource protection for the base and mission support for the aircraft. They provide warnings, watches, advisories, current weather and 30 hour forecasts in support of base operations and planning. They are also required to provide forecasts for aircraft that are deployed in Andersen for more than 30 days.

"Our mission weather Airman briefs the bombers with the mission execution forecasts," said 1st Lt. Musette Willis, 36th Operations Support Squadron weather flight commander. "We provide them take-off weather, in-route weather to the target, weather over the target and brief them of other weather hazards that may be in the way."

Staff Sgt. William Overbeck, 36 OSS weather flight forecaster, said that is very important for them to be as accurate as they can be.

"This is because any small shift can make the mission a no go," he said. "If we're off on our wind forecast, aircraft can get grounded here. Once the wind is above a certain criteria, the aircraft can't take off anymore. When the aircraft is stuck here and a typhoon comes, it could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft damage."

Despite a similar set of responsibilities as other bases' weather flights, Andersen's weather flight has the responsibility of forecasting weather coming from a data sparse area, the Pacific Ocean.

"Predominant wind flow is from east due north east, and most of the typhoons come from east due south east," said Sergeant Overbeck. "There are only a couple of islands: Palau, Chuuk, and Yap among others, which have observations and are thousands of miles apart."
Sergeant Overbeck also said that the difficulty of forecasting tropical weather is amplified by the butterfly effect.

"One small factor can cause a butterfly effect," he said. "We can have a little development change the forecast completely. It's hard to find those little factors when you have such a large data sparse area that you have to monitor."

Aside from the amount of information and support the weather provides the base and operations, their capabilities as a flight is tested whenever inclement weather is heading within the island's area of responsibility.

"If there's a typhoon coming to the island, everybody goes to the Defense Connect Online chat," said Lieutenant Willis. "There's a 7:30 am meeting every morning to coordinate the weather bureaus. We collaborate with the National weather service, Joint Typhoon Weather Center and 17th Operational Weather Squadron. We also have a Navy officer in Hawaii that provides weather for Joint Region Marianas."

"After receiving the briefing from Hawaii, I represent the Air Force and Navy weather at the heavy weather briefing with the National Weather Service, military leadership and Guam leadership," she continued. "This meeting is to make sure everyone on island is on the same page."

The heavy weather briefing is where the Typhoon Cyclone Condition of Readiness is determined. The weather bureaus provide the information, the timeline of when the winds are going to reach the island and how strong it's going to be, and the decision is made between the 36th Wing and the JRM Commander.

"The Commander's access channel 70, the marquee, and the front gates are some of the areas where you can find the current TCCOR level," said Lieutenant Willis.
Sergeant Overbeck said that the office gets really busy when there is inclement weather coming because they are constantly producing and providing weather information for the wing and the base.

"We support all the aircrews, transients and all the local customers with information," he said. "The phones are ringing non-stop. Leadership from different groups and squadrons either stop by or call to find out when it is going to hit."

"Keep the rumor mill down," he continued. "Only listen to official forecasts from the base, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center or National Weather Service."

Despite the busy atmosphere of the office, the flight members don't stress out as much because they know what's coming and what to expect from years of experience.

"We have one senior airman, and the rest are sergeants," said Sergeant Overbeck. "We have close to 100 years of weather experience between everybody in this flight."

Despite the obstacles of dealing with tropical weather, the members of the weather flight work hard to send out accurate and timely information in order to give people time to prepare and keep them safe.

"I have the best forecasters I have worked with in a while," said Lieutenant Willis. "We do so much more than 'partly cloudy, chance of showers,' and we look at so much information to forecast weather for this base, this island. They have a hard job working on an island. "

"The island weather is nice when there are little showers here and there, but when typhoons start to hit, that's when we have to step up our game even further to keep people up to date, aware and safe," she said. "That's when we get to put out game faces on and say, 'it's show time.'"

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