Senior Airman Zachary Sura, 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster, uses a handheld weather tracker on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 1, 2013. The handheld tracker measures temperature, dew point and other meteorological data in the event the main weather radar system is unavailable. (U.S. Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney)
Senior Airman Jonathan Twyman, 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster (left), and Capt. Thaddeus Fridgen, 455th EOSS weather flight commander, troubleshoot a tactical weather station on the flightline on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 1, 2013. Stations such as this one are set up in multiple locations to gather data on temperature, rainfall, etc., to aid in creating forecasts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney)
Senior Airmen Zachary Sura and Jonathan Twyman, 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather forecasters, monitor weather patterns in the 455th EOSS weather flight office on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 1, 2013. The flight is responsible for providing the busiest single runway in the Department of Defense with accurate and timely weather information. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney)
by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/20/2013 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- No one can control the weather, but the 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather flight makes a great effort to control its effect on operations here.
The weather flight is responsible for providing mission execution forecasts to the various flying squadrons on base and resource protection through weather watches and warnings.
"Our mission is to be eyes forward," said Capt. Thaddeus Fridgen, 455th EOSS weather flight commander, deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "We provide the busiest single runway in the Air Force with accurate and timely weather information."
The weather flight has been very successful, providing 3,000 mission and planning forecasts for five different airframes and transmitting 668 weather observations with a 100 percent error-free rate in the month of April.
Recently, the 455th EOSS weather flight even assisted two NATO fighter aircraft that were diverted to Bagram. Their weather station was reporting severe conditions that could have kept the aircraft here for up to 36 hours, keeping them out of the fight. Tech. Sgt. Patricia Hurdle-Aguilera, 455th EOSS weather forecaster, deployed from Shaw AFB, S.C., was asked if there was a better course of action.
Working quickly, Hurdle-Aguilera looked at the available data and weather models and determined there was a small window of opportunity the following morning where the aircraft could leave much sooner. She briefed the pilots, and their return flight plan was amended to reflect the forecast. Sure enough, Hurdle-Aguilera's work paid off and the NATO pilots departed safely after staying at Bagram only 10 hours.
Fridgen said that providing accurate weather information is crucial, whether it's local or in another part of the country.
"It's critical because there's not much room for error," he said. "If we're off with our ceiling forecast or our thunderstorm forecast, that could drastically alter [a unit's] flight plans and if they can't get to where they need to go, it could put people in danger."
Predicting weather in Afghanistan can be a complex undertaking as the terrain varies greatly from area to area. Fridgen compared it to places like Colorado.
"The terrain plays such a big [role] in how to forecast because you have to worry about how that affects the wind and thunderstorm development," he said.
However, the weather flight has several tools at its disposal to overcome this challenge, from a portable Doppler radar on a tower just outside the weather office to three tactical meteorology sensors on the airfield itself. These portable weather stations can record several weather variables such as temperature, rainfall and dew point.
"We try to use these various tools to help us, because this is a data-sparse region," Fridgen said, "It's not like back in the States where there are tons of observing points and the National Weather Service has everything covered."
Despite the challenges of terrain and infrastructure, Senior Airman Zachary Sura, 455th EOSS weather forecaster, deployed from Davis-Monthan AFB, said working in such a demanding environment can be rewarding when the products they provide enable a mission's completion.
"It's busier and more complex, but you can see the result of your work," he said.