JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Lackland —
Three Air National Guard members took first place this past December in the Thor's Legion Forecast Challenge, an Air Force-level competition held virtually at bases across the country.
The winning crew of three, dubbed “Team Stormbreaker,” consisted of Guardsmen from three different states: Master Sgt. J. Garrett Palmer, 131st Training Flight, Florida ANG; Airman 1st Class Philip Turney, 209th Weather Flight, Texas ANG; and Airman 1st Class Garrett Starr, 132nd Operations Group, Iowa ANG.
Hundreds of people signed up to take on the previous winners, the 25th Operational Weather Squadron’s Science Training team, and earn the Thor hammer, a competitive trophy named after the mythological god of thunder and known to many in the weather community.
“This is the first time a team from the ANG weather program has participated, and the team placed first, beating 77 teams of more than 500 participants in Air Force Weather,” said Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Stowers, 209th WF superintendent from Turney’s home unit.
Palmer, instructor supervisor for Turney and Starr, polled various students attending the Weather Applications Course to see if they wanted to compete, but it was ultimately two Airmen new to the career field who accepted the opportunity.
“The odds were definitely stacked against us in this challenge,” Turney said. “I was not expecting to win when I found out who we were going up against – considering the people and the different teams, like the science and research teams, the United States Air Force Academy’s graduating class of meteorology and civilians who had more than 100 years of combined weather experience.”
Despite his low expectations, Turney did not shy away from accepting the chance to compete.
“[Sergeant] Palmer was confident in our abilities and I wanted a challenge, and it seemed fun and interesting and something new to do,” Turney said. “He [Palmer] said, ‘I want that hammer,’ and I said, ‘I want that hammer too.’”
Palmer, as the team leader, had some unique challenges to overcome. He was teaching (and his teammates attending) class at the schoolhouse for eight hours a day, which relegated working on the competition tasks to after school hours only. During this time, he was also providing weather support to the ANG Readiness Center’s response to Hurricane Michael. Not wanting to waste the time he did have, Palmer decided to delegate the forecasting tasks and devise a game plan to best use the time they did have as efficiently as possible.
“We quickly reviewed the climatology and studied the geography surrounding the areas and applied principles of limited data forecasting they had just learned,” Palmer said. “Being that we had less than two hours from the end of our school day and the forecast deadline, I decided we would only look at one model, the [Global Air Land Weather Exploitation Model], and do a thorough initialization and verification daily.”
The hard work paid off, and nearly a week after the competition, the results were announced.
“It feels prestigious because winning this shows you’re one of the best forecasters the Air Force has to offer right now,” said Turney, who credits the win to Palmer’s leadership and his team’s communication skills.
For Palmer, this competition provided the perfect opportunity to display the mission of the 131st Training Flight, which is to produce mission ready ANG weather Airmen.
“From the beginning, all three of us felt confident in the quality of our work, applying daily lessons on the fundamentals of forecasting directly to the challenge,” Palmer said. “Turns out our strategy worked, and the ANG got the win.”
In Turney’s estimation, the significance of the competition lay somewhere beyond winning or losing.
“It made me feel more confident in my forecasting skill,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to do the challenge, do it, because the worst that could happen is you could lose, but that is nothing compared to the experience you get just by being part of the challenge.”