JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Cirrus, altostratus and cumulonimbus.
While most people may assume these terms are all spells out
of a Harry Potter scene, Alvin Hill, 12th Operations Support Squadron weather
operations flight chief, and his coworkers, know it refers to various types of
cloud formations that help predict weather.
“For a weather person, all these clouds have some
significance in terms of what’s expected for the day,” Hill said.
The 12th OSS/OSW, which includes nine civilian forecasters, is
charged with issuing weather products for all of Joint Base San
Antonio-Randolph, with its primary focus on providing support to the 12th
Flying Training Wing’s flying operations as well as resource protection for the
entire base, said Hill.
Every morning a weather brief is prepared and presented to
the supervisor of flying, who controls the launch and recovery of aircraft
during training missions. However, forecasters are continuously on the phone to
relay updated weather information that may affect operations.
“We try to optimize or maximize windows when pilots can
fly,” Hill said. “For instance, at the beginning of the day we knew going in
there was going to be thunderstorms. Our job is to focus in on those windows
when they can actually fly and not be interrupted by those thunderstorms.”
With the unpredictable nature of weather, Hill said the
mission weather forecaster will make calls to the supervisor of flying before a
weather warning is even issued through the command post to the entire base.
“If we get thunderstorms within a radius of the airfield of
30 miles, we know that may be a decision for them to recover aircraft or
divert,” Hill said. “So we’re getting them that advanced notice so they can
make those key decisions.”
The process in working with the 12th OSS/OSW is transparent
and heavily relied upon, said Maj. Aric F. Wagner, 12th Operations Group T-6A
“When we come in before our morning sorties, the work they
have already accomplished allows us to plan for our sorties, allowing maximum
mission accomplishment,” Wagner said. “If the weather does not support what we
have been scheduled for, their product allows us the ability to flex to a
mission that the weather will support.”
Not only does the 12th OSS/OSW provide services to the 12th
FTW, it provides information for civil engineering and maintenance, and it will
spend weeks or even months in advance forecasting weather for base events
during Fiesta San Antonio and air shows.
“Having that advanced notice to let them know when there may
be periods of rain greatly enhances their ability to schedule different
projects,” Hill said. “A lot of those things need to be organized or looked at
well in advance to see if it’s at least a viable option to do it.”
Although the most junior person in the 12th OSS/OSW has 18
years of experience under their belt, Hill said weather is an “inexact science,”
and there’s always a level of uncertainty that can bring challenges.
“The fact that Texas is such a big area and even though we
may have a weather system that may be coming in, by virtue of the different
types of terrain or terrain features, you could have different types of weather
going on throughout the entire state," Hill said.
One of the key learning tools is archiving past situations,
and although nothing ever occurs identically, it provides insight for what may
potentially happen during certain times of the year, said Hill.
With April being one of the heaviest months of the year for
rain and hurricane season approaching in June, the 12th OSS/OSW knows its
forecasting will also increase. Although the 12th OSS/OSW is a piece in a large
puzzle that is JBSA-Randolph’s flying mission, it plays an essential role in it.
“Without the 12th OSS/OSW, it would be very difficult to
accomplish our mission,” Wagner said. “Our Air Force Instructions have a
priority order to which we must obtain weather information. Without a local
weather shop, we would then rely on a Regional Outdoor Warning System not
familiar with our weather patterns, which could potentially degrade our mission