Face of Defense: Airman Improves Dust Storm Predictability

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Sept. 28, 2011 — Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Jenk­ins refused to accept dur­ing his deploy­ment in Iraq that the region’s dan­ger­ous dust storms could not be bet­ter pre­dict­ed. As his squadron’s weath­er flight non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer in charge, he took it upon him­self to change that.

Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas
Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Jenk­ins mon­i­tors the weath­er at Laugh­lin Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 16, 2011. Jenk­ins recent­ly devel­oped a for­mu­la to increase dust storm fore­cast accu­ra­cy from about 10 per­cent to 80 per­cent. Air Force offi­cials rec­og­nized the achieve­ment and are sched­uled to begin train­ing per­son­nel and imple­ment­ing the method. Jenk­ins is the 47th Oper­a­tions Sup­port Squadron Weath­er Flight non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer in charge of weath­er sys­tems.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Senior Air­man Scott Sal­dukas
Click to enlarge

Jenk­ins, with the 47th Oper­a­tions Sup­port Squadron here, recent­ly was deployed to For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Kalsu, Iraq, when he decid­ed to give him­self a research project before devis­ing a plan to improve dust storm fore­casts. In the Unit­ed States, he said, “we typ­i­cal­ly work with water-based weath­er such as rain, snow and thun­der­storms. When you’re out in [U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand areas], you don’t typ­i­cal­ly see that much. It’s more blow­ing dust and sand storms. Because our mod­els aren’t built to work with that, it tends to be … more unre­li­able than what your typ­i­cal weath­er fore­cast would be.” 

That prob­lem gave the mil­i­tary unit only about 10 to 15 per­cent accu­ra­cy in pre­dict­ing dust storms, he said. 

After about five months of research, Jenk­ins said, he devised a math for­mu­la that launched pre­dictabil­i­ty to 80 per­cent accu­ra­cy for pre­dict­ing dust storms. While the improved accu­ra­cy may not be need­ed much state­side, he said, it will be vital in many areas of Centcom. 

“In the field, it will make sure [warfight­ers] will have air sup­port for what­ev­er imme­di­ate mis­sion they are on, and have it more reli­ably,” Jenk­ins said. 

“Blow­ing dust and dust storms can pro­vide huge impacts to mis­sions and to ground per­son­nel,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bri­an Aragon, the weath­er oper­a­tions flight’s non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer in charge. “Per­son­nel can even be lost in an unfore­cast­ed event. So, hav­ing bet­ter tools to fore­cast these events can work to our advan­tage by being able to pre­dict occur­rences with the same accu­ra­cy as with fore­cast­ing rain and thun­der, or even fog.” 

Every tool avail­able is need­ed in a hos­tile loca­tion, Aragon said. “Every­thing we do is so time-sen­si­tive and ele­ment-crit­i­cal that we need every avail­able tool, prod­uct and method that we can spare,” he said. “It is some­thing that is proven enough that the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice and Army research agen­cies are inter­est­ed in its appli­ca­tions. This tells me that we need it in the field yesterday.” 

In the past year, Aragon helped Jenk­ins show his find­ings to peo­ple who would allow them to pros­per and move toward imple­men­ta­tion, includ­ing offi­cials at the Air Force Weath­er Agency at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. 

With the research com­plet­ed and with the weath­er agency’s stamp of approval, train­ing and field dis­tri­b­u­tion is to begin next year, Jenk­ins said. 

That accom­plish­ment speaks vol­umes about Jenk­ins, Aragon said. 

“When an air­man comes up with an idea or con­cept and works to test its use­ful­ness, it speaks high­ly of their ded­i­ca­tion to the mis­sion,” Aragon said. “When you have the met­tle to push it fur­ther, to ensure that it reach­es as many eyes as pos­si­ble with the goal of mak­ing it com­mon­place for how we con­duct stan­dard [oper­a­tions], that speaks vol­umes about character.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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