Overseers of the troposphere: MacDill weather forecasters support Team MacDill mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Tampa weather is unpredictable. It can either be a calm day full of sunshine and barbeques, with the next moment filled with afternoon rainstorms and lightning.

Weather can’t be controlled, but it can be predicted by watching the radar and interpreting what is being seen.

At MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, a highly-trained team of weather forecasters assigned to the 6th Operations Support Squadron, closely monitor the weather 24-hours a day, seven days a week to provide over watch of the skies.

While these men and women are rarely seen, their mission goes far beyond just watching radar screens.

“One of our most important priorities is resource protection,” said Staff Sgt. Shane Yurkus, a weather forecaster assigned to the 6th OSS. “We issue watches, warnings and advisories to inform base leadership of the weather five miles around the base.”

Resources at MacDill can range from fuel and vehicles to KC-135 Stratotankers. However, the most important resources are the service members stationed here. Thankfully, with the help of Airmen like Yurkus, whenever a strong thunderstorm approaches, base personnel are notified through an advisory.

“When Tropical Storm Hermine approached MacDill in September last year, we monitored it and reported any findings to leadership,” said Yurkus. “Eventually, it was declared unsafe for most people to commute to MacDill, and only mission-essential personnel reported for duty.”

While personnel are top priority, the aerial refueling mission can’t take off without aircraft. This is why aviation support is a crucial element of the weather mission. This involves creating weather briefs for pilots and crews who fly to and from MacDill.

The briefs contain local weather forecasts, along with potential hazards the crews might encounter. Hazards such as icing, turbulence and thunderstorms can impact any flight.

“We provide full weather support for the 310th Airlift Squadron,” said Yurkus. “With every flight they do in the United States, we give them [crews] every weather brief.

“However, KC-135 Stratotanker crews rarely get briefs from us; their briefs come from the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB in Illinois.”

The TACC issues weather briefs to tanker crews in order for a consistent weather outlook, ensuring the crews and weather forecasters are on the same page. However, the crews can receive a brief from the MacDill forecasters if they request.

“Cooperation is common with Air Force weather forecasts,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Casillas, a weather forecaster assigned to the 6th OSS. “In the Air Force, there are six weather hubs ranging from Hawaii to Germany and each hub is responsible for a region.”

At these weather hubs, forecasts are given across a region in the U.S. or abroad. Each base has its own weather forecasters, but information is shared between installations and the hub it falls under. MacDill falls under the 26th Operational Weather Squadron based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

“The hub at Barksdale will provide a forecast for us, and we’ll provide them with updates that we see in our local area,” said Casillas. “Since weather is constantly changing, every base works together to add a piece to the weather mosaic which covers the entire country.”

With their mission of closely monitoring what cannot be controlled, MacDill’s weather forecasters strive to predict severe and mission-altering weather in order to protect vital Air Force assets.

“Without weather predictions, planes could fly through dangerous conditions, repairs could be halted and crews on the flightline could be at risk,” said Yurkus. “It’s our mission to help protect and inform others so that the tankers can fly and keep personnel safe.”