Rain or shine Osan forecasters look to the sky
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- As an A-10 Thunderbolt approached its target during a training exercise, its pilot tactfully maneuvered the aircraft through the cloudy skies. He then prepped the aircraft to drop its Mark-82 bombs and banked toward the cloud cover's opening just seconds before munitions release.
As the pilot pulled away from his now destroyed target, he thought, "Wow, they were right."
'They' in this scenario are forecasters from the 51st Operations Support Squadron weather flight, whose mission is to not only provide A-10 pilots mission-relevant information about cloud coverage and ceilings, but also to provide timely and accurate weather information in support of all the 51st Fighter Wing's flying operations.
"Our responsibilities include resource protection for the aircraft itself, and flight safety for both aircraft on the ground and in the air," said Capt. Robert Waldrup, 51st OSS weather flight commander. "We're also responsible for issuing inclement weather warnings to the base populace."
Because Osan's unique physical features make it hard to predict, the weather flight's forecasters must rely on their training and expertise here more than other locations, said Staff Sgt. Michael Nelson, 51st OSS mission weather NCO in charge.
"Forecasting here is much harder because the weather-model data that we use has to pull real-time data from observations off the peninsula and upstream from where we are, and due to China and the Yellow Sea, there's very limited data out there," he said. "Each base you go to has different local effects, such as rivers or mountains, so you definitely need about a year in place to experience the seasonal effects and understand their operational impacts. And since we're only here for a year, you only experience each season once so it's really trial by error."
The weather flight provides a five-day generalized forecast for the base and a mission-execution forecast for the flying squadrons. Hourly observations are done to understand what's happening in the atmosphere, and in the case of inclement weather, observations are completed about every 10 minutes.
"Forecasts start on a hemispheric scale and all the information is funneled down to a micro scale," Nelson said. "We're not just forecasting for Osan, we're forecasting for literally the entire peninsula."
Even though the weather flight personnel pride themselves on providing accurate forecasts, even the best forecasters can be wrong from time to time, said Staff Sgt. Stephanie Clark, 51st OSS weather forecaster.
"You can only forecast so much, get everything right, and still have it go wrong because one small aspect changed causing a butterfly-effect, which in turn changes everything else," she said. "You really have to rely on your experience and knowledge to make it."
The day-to-day challenges and ever-changing weather keep Osan's forecasters sharp.
"It's very personally rewarding," Nelson said. "Other people don't recognize our daily contributions, but it's still a good feeling. We're a small bit of what goes into getting pilots in the air to effectively do their jobs, but we definitely play an important role in accomplishing the mission."