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Cannon’s weather flight: Predicting the unpredictable

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Since becoming home to the 27th Special Operations Wing nearly 10 years ago, the eastern New Mexico skies have played host to an assortment of platforms ranging from gunships to remotely piloted aircraft.

More often than not, Mother Nature favors the wing mission, allowing operators to hone their skills in cloudless, blue expanses; but because an off day may entail blizzards, dust storms, or breakneck winds, the 27th SOW relies on the precision of its weather forecasters for guidance and mission planning.

“It’s very unique here because you have quite a few different environmental areas coming together,” said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Kegler, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron NCO-in charge of airfield weather. “This is the crossroads for the arid mountain weather set up, and the moisture that comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on what our predominant wind flow is, a few degrees of directional change can have a huge impact on the weather. It can be very challenging to predict.”

Despite the obstacles it presents, many weather forecasters enjoy the unpredictability of their craft and thrive on the possibility of significant weather events.

“Once upon a time, there was a chief I worked with who said weather personnel are very morbid,” Kegler said. “When everyone else hears there’s going to be a historic storm that causes a lot of damage, they hunker down, but the weather folks go outside and look up. It’s nice for operations when you have beautiful weather and calm winds, but we make our money when the extreme stuff happens.”

Whether the prediction is calm or extreme, the end game remains the same.

“We want to be right,” said Airman 1st Class Alexander Molino, 27th SOSS weather forecaster apprentice. “Our number one priority is to support the Air Force Special Operations Command mission. If we don’t get the right information out there, we potentially put lives at risk.”

According to Molino, members of the weather flight spend their days supporting the AFSOC mission by creating forecasts pertinent to day-to-day base operations, flight operations, and contingency operations from installation to installation.

“We provide the whole base with any sort of weather support they may need,” the airman first class explained. “For example, during inclement weather such as lightening, live ammunition can’t be loaded onto planes. If we aren’t precise in forecasting the correct weather, the mission can’t happen.”

Making predictions that affect the mission on a regular basis has fostered a sense confidence in Molino, but not completely alleviated the pressure.

“You can be put between a rock and a hard place when something really needs to get done, and we have to make the hard call and say it might not be safe,” Molino said. “The greatest challenge in our job is being confident in what we’re putting out.”

At the end of the day, both Kegler and Molina agree that the rewards of their chosen field outweigh the pitfalls.

“By and large, everyone is very supportive and appreciative of the effort we put in,” Kegler said. It’s a very supportive community where people understand that it’s more of an art than a science. I think everybody’s got a little weather nerd in them.”

As an airman fresh out of technical training, being able to draw such a close connection between his actions and mission impact allows Molino to derive a sense of satisfaction.

“Weather is not predictable whatsoever,” Molino said. “We have to be able to put a recipe together when a lot of ingredients are missing; but having that direct line to mission operations is very rewarding. We’re vital.”