Keeping an eye on the sky

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Members of Minot Air Force Base’s Weather Flight keep a close watch on the weather locally and globally.

The Weather Flight, a unit of the 5th Operations Support Squadron, is a 24/5 operation but also on weekends they are on standby, said Capt. Richard Landsverk, Flight commander.

Staff Sgt. Renee Dunn, airfield services noncommissioned officer in charge, said they supply the day-to-day support to the base’s B-52 bombers as well as others at the base including the 91st Missile Wing and its entire area of operations.

She said the Weather Flight gives people the heads-up about blizzards, temperatures, thunderstorms, even tornadoes. They’re the eyes on all this information and keeping people safe for doing their missions, she said.

The Weather Flight moved into new quarters in the new Base Operations Facility in April. The Base Operations Facility and new air traffic control tower, a $16.3 million project, was dedicated in August.

The facility includes state-of-the-art work stations for airfield operations and weather personnel supporting both the 5th Bomb Wing and 91st Missile Wing missions. The building has an unobstructed view of the flightline to monitor operations and weather fronts coming in.

The Weather Flight members gather their own weather information in putting together forecasts, but they also work with other entities, including the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

“We try to collaborate with them as much as possible so we’re on the same page,” Dunn said. She said, for example, during a recent weekend of snow events they talked quite often to the National Weather Service.

Landsverk said Weather Flight has around 20-some windows open on their computers at a given time. “We have like the best of the best when it comes to computers,” he said.

Senior Airman Dan Wright, a weather forecaster with the Weather Flight who was working at the counter at the Weather Flight on Thursday, said when the temperature gets extremely cold more people ask for the temperature. He said many, like the helicopter pilots and the ground crews going to the Minot missile field, will ask for the wind chills.

Comparing Minot’s weather to other places he has been, Landsverk said, “I would say our weather on the cold side is quite extreme here because we are on the front door of Canada. Canada is like the source region for all the intense cold air so when we have just a minor disturbance come through, we immediately get that cold air. Even in the summer we’re right there on the edge where we can get that new air mass introduced and that’s why we get the severe storms up here,” he said.

The weather people get their initial training at Keesler AFB in Mississippi where they spend several months. Then they are assigned to one of the Air Force Weather “Hubs,” major regional weather forecasting stations, for on-the-job training for two to three years. They then return to school for Advanced Weather Exploitation and Integration Course, also known as AWEIC, for nearly 10 months. Then they are assigned to a base.

“Right now Airman Wright is in training. He’s learning specifically what the B-52s need to fly, what the UH-1s need to fly, what mission limiting factors affect missions going out to the fields things like that. He’s getting locally qualified and that usually takes at least nine weeks,” Dunn said.

Dunn grew up in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Wright was born and raised in Manchester, Tenn., and Landsverk is from Stoughton, Wis., a community near Madison, Wis.

“It’s a pretty big change,” said Wright, in being at Minot AFB. He said he wanted to get into weather as his career field in the Air Force, and when he signed up for the military he said he was guaranteed weather. “It sounded interesting to me. There’s a lot of avenues in this job,” he said.