OS shop decodes weather, keeps base safe

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- To most people, a rain shower is nothing more than that. It evokes no further thought other than maybe a disgruntled sigh. But to one shop at Incirlik, a rain shower means serious business. They know the sometimes unknown. When rain falls here, they work hard at decoding mountains of weather data. They are Airmen of the 39th Operations Squadron weather shop, and their job is no easy task.

"The job definitely has its challenges," said Tech. Sgt. Megan Curran, a 39th OS weather forecaster. "Nothing remains the same. The weather is always changing, and the location has a lot to do with the uncertainty too."

Forecasting, or predicting uncertainty is a tricky part of the job, but forecasters know they have no choice but to do it to the best of their ability; it's their responsibility.

"We have to be very accurate in what we do," said Senior Airman Raymond Mitchell, a 39th OS weather forecaster. "If something bad were to happen to an aircraft, we'd [could] be the first ones questioned. It's pretty serious."

It's also the shop's responsibility to keep people who fall under their purview safe. The forecasters' daily tasks include briefing pilots and aircrew members regarding potential weather hazards and take-off and landing forecasts.

The forecasters also inform the base populous about weather, and that includes issuing severe weather alerts and high heat advisories. If the heat index exceeds specific thresholds, the base implements heat category mitigation measures warning people to take proper precautionary actions. Some of those actions include less outdoor work, increased rest time and proper hydration during high heat conditions. Extreme heat is one of the more common severe weather occurrences at Incirlik.

"People need to know when we have bad weather and high heat," Airman Mitchell said. "It's all about safety."

Forecasting weather conditions may seem like a guessing game, but forecasters have many tools to help them out.

Some of the tools include a tactical weather radar system that uses radar to see weather conditions within 50 miles of the base; the FMQ-19 weather observance system for more specific data such as air pressure and humidity; and access to information provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory on lunar illumination. All these tools and information prove vital to forecasters and the pilots who have to navigate through and around varied weather conditions.

When it comes to tracking these conditions, Sergeant Curran said one of the most useful tools she has are her senses.

"When we're off duty, we're always keeping an eye on the skies," said Sergeant Curran. "We're always on-call."

The weather shop works closely with the 21st Operational Weather Squadron at Sembach Air Base, Germany. They provide weather information to the U.S. European Command area to include the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Russia.

Weather means serious business for base and air operations. The lightest of rain showers or even a minuet temperature change can equal a busy day for the Incirlik weather shop, but they will continue to ensure the safety of base members and visitors remains their number one priority.