Weather flight forecasts rain down in South Korea

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Houston Jorgensen, 8th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster, ensures the TMQ-53 is providing weather data to the laptop at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 8, 2020. The TMQ-53 is a portable, automated weather station used to set up in austere locations to attain weather data from the area. The equipment takes roughly 30 minutes for a two-member team to set up and 45 minutes for a lone member. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Hetlage)

Inclement weather can rain on anyone’s parade, including flying operations, physical training and more. The 8th Operations Support Squadron weather flight monitors the sky to keep the Wolf Pack looking on the bright side at Kunsan Air Base.

The 8th OSS weather flight consists of 11 personnel across two sections to support roughly 2,500 Wolf Pack members. The weather operations section works directly with the 35th and 80th Fighter Squadrons, providing weather updates for flying operations. The airfield operations section provides weather updates for the rest of the base and fields phone calls from various base agencies.

“Our primary mission is to support the flying mission first and foremost,” said Tech. Sgt. Phillip Mathews, 8th OSS weather operations NCO in charge. “In the weather operations section, we provide pilots a weather brief before each mission and continue to monitor and give updates if needed.”

In addition, mission forecasts are prepared hours prior to takeoff for pilots. These forecasts are normally briefed in person by a weather flight Airman embedded in each fighter squadron.

“We brief over the phone right now due to COVID-19 to limit our footprint but once things return to normal operations, we’ll embed once again,” said Mathews. “Having embedded Airmen allows pilots to bring any questions or concerns directly to us, face-to-face at a moment’s notice.”

Pilots depend on accurate and detailed weather forecasts to complete their flying operations.

“Our mission forecast is tailored to the pilots,” said Mathews. “We have to be a lot more specific than your regular news weatherman. Pilots need to know the exact level of turbulence, level of cloud heights for takeoff and landing, and more.”

He added, “Weather can change the types of tools or munitions needed to complete a mission. If the aircraft are carrying the wrong weapon for the wrong weather, they are not going to be as successful.”

The airfield operations part of the flight provides a more generalized forecast for the rest of the Wolf Pack.

“We issue any weather watches, warnings or advisories,” said Senior Airman Houston Jorgensen, 8th OSS weather forecaster. “We also field phone calls from agencies across the base. We are a tool for anyone to use if they require weather information.”

Agencies such as the 8th Force Support Squadron fitness assessment center requires weather updates to conduct physical training tests while the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight must understand certain weather parameters to conduct controlled detonations. The 8th OSS air traffic control tower is also provided with weather updates constantly so they can communicate moment-to-moment updates with pilots as they take off and land.

“Weather drives what you can accomplish,” said Mathews. “Sun Tzu had a famous quote, ‘know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.’ I think that sums up our career field.”

Their career field also extends to supporting Army personnel, not just at Kunsan, but worldwide.

“There are no Army forecasters,” said Mathews. “We have some Airmen who came from Army assignments and others who are going on to Army assignments from here. Our career field offers a lot of different opportunities and different directions we can take.”

Weather flight Airmen go through one of the longest technical trainings in the Air Force. The training is conducted over 146 duty days at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. While there, they will learn how to write forecasts, the different layers in the atmosphere and even the sun and solar storms.

“During technical training, they are basically cramming in a four-year meteorology degree minus the advanced math,” said Mathews. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years and I’m still learning, seeing things I’ve never seen before. You don’t ever master forecasting weather because it’s so fluid.”

Weather forecasting is so fluid that it changes from base to base and region to region.

“Weather can be affected by the terrain, so each location has its own localized effects, experience is key in pattern recognition and writing forecasts,” said Jorgensen. “My biggest challenge was learning how weather at Kunsan is vastly different and doesn’t look anything like the weather in Texas.”

Even with experience and pattern recognition, weather forecasting is not an exact science.

“Weather is not black and white. ‘A’ plus ‘B’ doesn’t always equal ‘C’ for us,” said Mathews. “I like to think we are correct 90 percent of the time, but we are occasionally going to be wrong no matter what and that’s frustrating.”

Right or wrong, the 8th OSS weather flight continues to provide an umbrella of support for the Wolf Pack.