Airman Improves Dust Storm Predictability

air force weather pic edited
During his deployment in Iraq, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Jenkins refused to accept that the region's dangerous dust storms could not be better predicted. As his squadron's weather flight noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge, he took it upon himself to change that.

Jenkins, who is with the 47th Operations Support Squadron, was recently deployed to Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, where he decided to do some research 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 CENTCOM (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 predicting dust storms, he said.

After five months of research, Jenkins devised a math formula that predicted dust storms with 80-percent accuracy. “While the improvement may not be needed much stateside, 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 Tech. Sgt. Brian Aragon, the weather operations flight's NCO 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, according to Aragon. "Everything we do is so time-sensitive and element-critical that we need every available tool, product and method that we can spare. 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 the weather agency's stamp of approval, training and field distribution is scheduled to begin next year. That accomplishment speaks volumes about Jenkins, according to Aragon. "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. 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."