MacDill weather forecasters can see the future

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rito Smith
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

After eight and a half weeks of Basic Military Training, a group of Airmen spend roughly eight months learning meteorological concepts, forecasting skills, process and procedures, and how to apply the knowledge from their training in order to be able to call themselves U.S. Air Force Weathermen.

Weather Airmen at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, are assigned to the 6th Operations Support Squadron and are entrusted with many tasks that play a key role in supporting the mission.

“One of the main things we do is write the forecast for the airfield which includes the wind speed, wind direction, cloud heights, altimeter settings and crosswinds which could blow an aircraft off its intended glide path,” said Airman 1st Class Ethan Sheptow, a weather forecaster assigned to the 6th OSS. “All of this information helps us with our main goal of resource protection.”

Weather forecasters issue all weather watches, warnings and advisories for the base, to include, tropical storm and hurricane advisories. They also compile weather briefs for pilots before every take-off.

“The pilots have to file a briefing with weather before they can fly, in order to know what the take-off and landing conditions are going to be,” said Tech. Sgt. Keith Coleman, NCO in charge of the weather flight assigned to the 6th OSS. “Pilots need to know if there is going to be a thunderstorm, ice or turbulence and at what degree and time to expect these things.

“We are able to give them a specific time on when the rain is going to start and when it will stop.”

Along with briefing pilots, weather Airmen compile a five day forecast to include any possible hazards that can pose a threat to the base or its resources, which is presented to the wing commander.

“The wing commander is our number one customer,” said Coleman. “We make sure she is aware of everything that could happen in the area.” 

In order to accomplish these tasks, Airmen use a program called Hurrtrak, which uses the National Hurricane Center’s forecast and breaks down what hazards can be expected in the local area after a hurricane or tropical storm has been identified.

“The National Hurricane Center will drop out information on a regular basis and we use that for our reports,” said Sheptow. “Once we have the information we are required to have a full report out to the base in 15 minutes.”

The runway is equipped with two weather sensors to gather data, however if those were to stop working, Airmen are prepared to deploy a tactical weather sensor allowing them to continue to gather information.

“Our mission is so important that we have many contingency plans in place,” said Coleman. “On top of the tactical weather sensor we have an alternate operating location in case we lose power to our main center, this allows us to maintain weather monitoring no matter the circumstances.”

Weather Airmen work around the clock to ensure the mission keeps moving by providing accurate and timely reports to those who need it, when they need it, every day.