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Forecasters keep their heads in the clouds, feet on the ground

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
The distant clap of thunder can leave one wondering whether or not they will be affected by adverse weather conditions in the near future. It is up to a group of forecasters from the 36th Operations Support Squadron's weather flight to ensure the local populace has the information they need to react to any weather conditions.

Twelve forecasters in the 36th OSS weather flight provide weather products and knowledge to the expeditionary flying squadrons, wing staff, transient aircrews and flight line operations.

"On a typical day we usually get one or two taskings," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Bridgham, 36th OSS airfield service element NCO-in-charge.

Weather flight handles "anything from what the weather will be on a certain day to how much rain we had in one month. During busy weather days, the taskings get too numerous to count. They vary from when lightning will stop, when the next thunderstorm will start, how high the thunderstorms are, to what Typhoon Condition of Readiness we are in," he continued.

The 36th OSS weather flight plays a crucial role with providing weather forecast support and resource protection to Andersen personnel and its assets. They partner and work with several base agencies including, the Air Mobility Command and 36th Wing command posts to get weather warnings out to the rest of the base, the Incident Control Center during severe weather, 36th Communications Squadron for various equipment issues, and much more.

They also partner with outside agencies such as the National Weather Service Field Office in Tinian, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii, and all other weather flights in Pacific Air Forces for any aircrews that may land here.

Predicting weather isn't easy, especially here on Guam. One of the challenges the weather flight has to overcome is quickly creating an accurate forecast for developing tropical storms and typhoons.

"Data is typically limited in the initial stages of a new storm and the computer forecast models are still resolving exactly how 'they' think the storm will progress," said Capt. Kyle Larson, 36th OSS weather flight commander. "This combines with the fact storms frequently develop close enough to Guam that we are already inside our 72-hour window for TCOR changes and actions that need to start taking place on base."

According to Captain Larson, the weather flight works with JTWC as they determine the official forecast track and intensity so they are able to distribute the forecast to Department of Defense agencies and personnel.

The forecasters of the weather flight have many tools at their disposal to accomplish the mission but rely heavily on the internet to access weather model data produced on supercomputers at the Air Force Weather Agency and the National Weather Service.

"We also have access to meteorological satellites," said Sergeant Bridgham. "The satellites provide us with a wealth of information in near-time on volcanoes, typhoons and other general weather conditions out in the ocean that may impact the mission."

In order to stay on top of their game in Guam, forecasters must undergo refresher training for forecasting different types of tropical weather such as typhoons and other high wind events. However, they also must continue to look at forecasting problems pertaining to other areas of the world.

"The physics and dynamics underlying weather conditions remain the same, but weather conditions themselves vary greatly between Guam, and as an example, Afghanistan," said Captain Larson.

With such dynamic and ever-changing weather conditions on the planet, predicting weather can seem a daunting task. But for many forecasters, it's what keeps them going.

"Every day and every forecast is different," said Captain Larson. "It keeps the job interesting."