Weather you want it or not, it's still going happen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tristin English
  • Baghdad Media Outreach Team
Rain hitting rooftops, flashes of light fill the sky followed by rolling thunder. The wind picks up as rain turns into ice, tapping on windows and vehicles.

People scramble to get off the streets, and over the airwaves the order comes out: "Seek shelter!" Then the power goes out.

Rain, sun, clouds, tornado and winter warnings are just a few weather terminologies used by the National Weather Service to help people know what is going on from mother nature. Plano, Texas native U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Casey Fletcher, 532nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron meteorologist at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, is able to identify the potential for all of these by launching weather balloons.

Currently, Al Asad is the only base in Iraq that releases two weather balloons a day.

Weather balloons are five feet in circumference, resembling a miniature hot air balloon and filled with helium with a small sensor at the base. The weather balloon is released into the air and travels up approximately 45,000 feet to gather atmospheric conditions.

"The weather balloon uses a small device on the end of it, called a radiosonde, to track wind speed, pressure in the atmosphere, temperature and humidity," said Sgt. Fletcher. "The device then transmits data back to the network, and from there we take different charts and models and put them together to make a forecast."

Putting together the forecast helps alert the different agencies and squadrons on base of possible inclement weather. Without these forecasts, pilots might get caught off guard and fly into dangerous weather.

"We were able to alert squadrons of a recent large, low pressure system moving towards Iraq," he said" And three days later we had a total dust blackout."

Sgt. Fletcher maintains contact with the unit commander to give briefs about weather in advance to rearrange flight operations.

Similar to his duties at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., his home station, Sgt. Fletcher also briefs aircrew members on what they can and can't do in different weather situations.

"I show them the steps of the flight, point out their limitations and help them with whether they can do their mission or not." he said. "In the states, the military's impact time for weather is much greater than the weather service, but while deployed there is a lot of pressure, we may have 10 sorties a day and in the end we give them the information they need to decide whether to fly or not."