Come rain or shine
Tech. Sgt. Michael Garrett, 26th Operational Weather Squadron weather forecaster, analyzes charts on the ops floor on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Oct. 13. The 26 OWS is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing warnings for the entire southeast United States. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chad Warren)(RELEASED)
by nior Airman Chad Warren
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
10/15/2011 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Sitting in a chair surrounded by four computer monitors, Senior Airman Gary Graeff studies endless charts and maps of the southeast United States.
The color-coded maps with seemingly random markings mean nothing to most people, but he sees everything he needs to perform a critical mission here at Barksdale. Part scientist and part psychic, Graeff is paid to predict the future.
Graeff is a weather forecaster for the 26th Operational Weather Squadron, one of five weather hubs in the Air Force.
The 26 OWS is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing warnings for a large section of the United States. The highly-trained Airmen that work in the hub analyze weather data from 133 sites, creating forecasts and predictions impacting more than 680,000 military personnel.
Such a large area of responsibility can become extremely busy, said Graeff.
Having accurate, up-to-date weather information is of vital importance to the Air Force since it directly affects an aircraft's ability to fly safely. Each time a plane's aircrew is scheduled to leave the ground, for training or otherwise, leadership must take the weather into account and weigh the risks. Commanders use the information provided by the Airmen of the 26 OWS to make these decisions.
Such responsibility is not given to Airmen overnight however. Many months of training and evaluation take place before a forecaster is certified.
"Everyone here has gone through a long technical school and lots of training," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Garrett, 26 OWS weather forecaster. "Even after arriving here, Airmen have to go through several more training steps before they are fully certified."
Garrett was an instructor for five years at the weather school-house on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., where weather forecasters go through their initial eight-month training course. Following this initial course, Airmen assigned to the 26 OWS begin a 12-week class before moving to the floor to begin forecasting. Airmen must work at least 10 shifts under the direct supervision of a qualified forecaster before receiving a final evaluation known as a check ride.
"The entire training process takes about a year," said Graeff. "By the time someone reaches their check ride, they have enough experience to forecast on their own."
For weather forecasters, extensive training is crucial.
When predictions are used to make mission-critical decisions, there is little room for error. The more training and experience a forecaster has, the more likely they will be able to interpret the data they are given and give an accurate prediction, said Master Sgt. Barbara Marting, 26 OWS flight chief.
"Every decision we make is backed up by sound scientific evidence, but it isn't perfect," said Marting. "The dynamic of predicting the future is a subjective science."