Sheppard Air Force Base Weather Watchers - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Sheppard Air Force Base Weather Watchers

On average, Sheppard Air Force Base sends out around 250 flights a day, from seven in the morning to around nine at night. And often, the most important adversary the Air Force needs to fight is the atmosphere.

That's where the weather watchers of the 80th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) come in.

“We're the first step of what the pilots see,” Weather Forecaster Staff Sergeant Devin Sutherland said.

Starting at five in the morning, the weather watchers are on the clock, continuously monitoring the weather and updating their forecasts, called "FAMEFs," every three hours. They also brief the pilots at Sheppard about any potential weather hazards.

“We definitely need to have the best forecasting of the weather that we can to determine what kind of training we can do and where it's safe to go,” Instructor Pilot Captain Anthony Mitchell said. “If there is a weather deck at 5000 feet, and that goes all the way up to 15,000 feet, but it's clear below, we can do low level flying or instrument flying.”

Meteorologists at Sheppard maintain a forecast accuracy rating above 90 percent, which is crucial when pilot safety is involved. It is a long process to become a weather forecaster, spanning about four years of extensive training and intense schooling. But it's a necessary ordeal, because the Sheppard weather watchers don't just need to know what's happening at the surface, but what's occurring in the upper atmosphere as well.

“Especially for the pilots, we have to know all the way up to about 25, 30,000 ft,” Sutherland said. “We could have a big trough, like a dip in the atmosphere, you can't really see it out there but what it does is it changes the winds up aloft and pilots flying across there, it can get pretty bumpy.”

And small changes in the upper atmosphere can result in big changes at Earth's surface. According to Staff Sergeant Sutherland, in his seven years at Sheppard, the hardest forecast is trying to predict the formation of fog and other low level clouds.

“They are always changing so fast, and we have amendable criteria, so when it changes, we have to amendable criteria, so when it changes, we have to amend our forecast,” Sutherland explained.

Even with an exceptional forecast record, and long periods of less than exciting weather patterns, Sutherland and the rest of the weather watchers have seen some weather phenomena that are just plain crazy.

“An aircraft actually induced a thunderstorm,” Sutherland said. “The aircraft flew through the rain shower, and the charges from the aircraft actually produced the lightning. It kind of made bullet holes in the aircraft about the size of your thumb.”

With winter and colder temperatures right around the corner, one of the major forecast challenges for the weather team at Sheppard Air Force Base will be predicting icing.

“Weather providing us accurate information on which clouds will produce icing at what altitude is important for us, Mitchell said. “Icing, for both a T6 and T38, because we don't have anti-icing capabilities, is very important to avoid, and if we do enter icing conditions, we have to exit those immediately.”

“Most of the time, its light rime icing, we get it from stratiform clouds, that sit over the top of Wichita Falls. And then mostly from the start of October to roughly February, March is our most common months for light rime icing,” Sutherland said.

And the wintertime months is when the weather watchers at Sheppard help keep the local community informed.

“We do a lot of communication with local areas for the snow forecast and for the sleet forecast. Mostly it's just displaying what the base is thinking versus what the National Weather Service is thinking,” Sutherland said.

No matter what season, weather is in every aspect of our lives, as Aviation Meteorologist for the 80th OSS Klaus Lammers explained.

“We're not just forecasting weather for the pilots, were also forecasting for the student training side. If there is lightning in the area, we have to let the 82nd side know that so that they can lock down the students.

“Weather is not just on one aspect of the operation, it's in every aspect of the operation, from ground training all the way up to flight training,” Lammers said.

All those at Sheppard rely on these weather watchers, helping those at the base to truly "fly high."

Dave Caulfield, Newschannel 6

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