ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – Rapid City, South Dakota, has earned the title of having the most unpredictable weather across the U.S. and Ellsworth Air Force Base just ten miles away the brunt of Mother Nature’s fury.
The operations of the 28th Bomb Wing never stop. From ensuring B-1 Bombers can launch safely to providing a safe avenue for our mission essential personal to report for duty, team Ellsworth Airmen have their hands full because of weather that’s almost impossible to predict. Fortunately, the 28th Operations Support Squadron weather flight is on hand 24/7 to predict the first drop of precipitation.
“Our main job is to provide accurate, timely and relevant weather information to protect base assets and populace,” said Master Sgt. Jessica Leiker, the 28th OSS noncommissioned officer in charge of mission weather operations. “[We also] enhance the operational effectiveness of the 28th Bomb Wing across the globe.”
Many hands make for light work. The weather flight understands this and has built their schedule to meet the wing mission customer needs on a day-to-day basis.
“We have our flight broken up into two different sections,” Leiker said. “The first is airfield support. [They] monitor hourly weather observations being disseminated out to the world and issue warnings which include lightning, snow and tornado advisories. They also provide radio updates to aircrews. Our other section is the mission integration function. They produce the weather forecast the aircrews use when they fly.”
William Martin, the 28th OSS Weather Flight lead forecaster added that the weather flight provides accurate forecasts overseas which helps B-1s safely conduct the mission abroad.
The flight assists wing organizations around base make critical decisions, based on weather conditions.
The weather flight helps base leadership make critical decisions that can affect the outcome of the flying mission.
“The services we provide impact nearly every organization on base,” said William Martin the 28th OSS weather flight lead forecaster. “We provide [forecasts], resource protection, support almost every organization on base and keep the mission going 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our services also enhance the B-1’s performance by giving accurate forecasts that help them put weapons on target effectively.”
The weather flight is responsible for keeping the base up to speed on climate conditions. Without the flights forecasts, aircraft and their crews who could be at serious risk and other organizations might be in danger of losing Ellsworth’s most valuable assets.
“Our job is important because we are a key asset of resource management,” Leiker said. “We protect $10 billion in base assets and 8,300 personnel. Also, weather plays a key role when planning, whether it’s for a base event or a flying mission. They look to us for input to ensure we are able to mitigate hazards to the best of our ability.”
On any given day, the job is as unpredictable as the weather conditions.
“The job is either easy or insanely difficult,” said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Williams, the 28th OSS NCOIC of airfield weather operations. “There is no in-between, I enjoy the challenge. The most rewarding thing I have experienced as a forecaster is seeing the B-1s land safely right before the weather changes. You get a sense of pride knowing that your forecast kept the crew out of a bad situation.”
There are many places in the U.S. where the weather is difficult to predict. But, no other area is harder to predict than Rapid City. Due to the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains, the climate in the area is too dynamic and chaotic to give completely accurate forecasts. Even Airmen who have been in the region for over a decade find the area around Ellsworth challenging.
Williams added that the terrain amplifies every thunderstorm in the summer. He also said the hills channel some of the strongest winds during the winter.
“I've forecasted at some point in my career for all seven continents, but by far Ellsworth is the most difficult place I've ever worked,” Leiker said.
With all of this responsibility, significant training is involved. The technical training for the weather career field takes approximately one year, but only covers the basics.
“I get to go to training provided by the Air Force, so I can do my job more effectively,” Martin said. “Just recently, I went to a class at Kessler Air Force Base, Miss., which helped me learn to use weather radar [systems] better than [before].”
This new skill comes in handy when trying to provide accurate forecasts overseas to B-1s to help safely conduct the mission abroad.
“My favorite part [of working in weather] is that we can…go to a lot of different places,” Leiker said. “We can go just about anywhere in the world and do numerous different jobs, so you don't get bored doing the same thing.”
While South Dakota weather can be unpredictable at times, the Airmen of the 28th OSS weather flight are up to the challenge.