WASHINGTON – Before the Air Force Weather Agency team traveled to the Air Force Association's National Convention to tell about its exploits in the Iraq war,team members cleaned the sand off the Humvee and put on a new coat of tan paint.
And what did most of those who walked by the exhibit want to know about? Whether the approach of Hurricane Isabel would delay their trips home.
So the Air Force officers running the portable weather station shifted from playing a video about the agency on a flat-panel screen attached to the side of the Humvee to a live image of Isabel’s path.
And though they hadn’t planned it that way,it gave the team members a chance to show how they could forecast on the fly.
The convention,being held Sept. 15 to 17 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel,is an expo for aerospace technologies and drew 9,000 visitors.
Lt. Chad Little,26,has been with the Air Force for three years. In December,he was deployed to Iraq with the Army’s Third Infantry Division as weather support.
Little remembered the division’s final push to Baghdad. There was too much smoke and fog for helicopters to fly. He said that by checking the weather forecast,he knew there would be a small window in the morning when the atmosphere would be stable enough to fly. The unit got in.
“As an Air Force weather person,I supervise both terrestrial weather and space weather,” Little said. “This job in particular,working with the Army,has quite a diverse role.”
His job in Iraq was to analyze the weather information and make sure other units knew what to expect. While overseas,the combat weather team became so accustomed to predicting sandstorms,it was able to alert units up to five days in advance.
Little said weather is very important to a war. “While not all jobs revolve around weather,a lot of them deal with the weather,” he said.
Little did not initially picture himself as a meteorologist. He went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to become an engineer,but through the ROTC program,he found out the military needed people to analyze the weather,so he switched to meteorology.
Severe weather can wreak havoc on munitions. Almost all of the sandstorms were followed by lingering high winds and dust,and helicopters could not fly in zero visibility.
“Sand limited what they could do,” Lt. Col. Tim Lambert said. Lambert,45,who works in management of the Air Force weather services,said the troops would try to mitigate the weather.
“If it's foggy in the morning,we may be able to fly in the afternoon,” he said.
Lambert also said the military is able to use technologies such as night-vision goggles in inclement weather.
“If we know in advance about something that the enemy is not aware of,we can be prepared,” said Little,who is stationed at Fort Stewart,Ga.
The weather support team can broadcast while driving and can set up observation equipment in two or three hours once the team has stopped.
The job cannot be done from U.S. soil because the forecast needs to be tailored to a specific area. Lambert said the system differs from civilian systems that predict weather for a specific city. The military is predicting weather for a specific square mile.
The forecasters receive information from the military in the United States and analyze it and broadcast it to other units via secure e-mail,text message or radio.
About 3,500 people,including officers,enlisted specialists and civilians are involved with the Air Force weather program.
Nearly 30 percent of them work with the Army,providing weather support.
The Air Force Weather Agency is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base,Neb.