Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the 15th Operational Weather Squadron at Scott Air Force Base closely monitors more than 11 million square miles of territory that stretches from the American Northeast, through Canada, to Greenland, and the ocean in between.
Their forecasting helps protect more than 418,000 personnel and $226 billion in assets, as senior leaders use this information to make decisions about sheltering or evacuating during extreme weather. Recently, the 15th OWS also stepped in to cover the 17th OWS’s mission when Hurricane Lane hit Hawaii.
“It was about three days, and during that time, we took over support for Korea, Japan and the Pacific Command,” said 2nd Lt. Samantha Reed, 15th OWS senior duty officer.
This coverage was crucial, as the Pacific was facing not only Hurricane Lane in Hawaii, but also two typhoons headed toward East Asia. Along with the forecasting aspect of their mission, the 15th OWS is also heavily involved in assisting flight operations.
“Weather impacts everything, especially flying missions, which is what the Air Force is built to do,” Reed said. “Pilots rely on us a lot because they can’t take off without a weather brief. If we don’t provide it, they don’t fly their mission.”
Because the 15th OWS covers one-third of the continental U.S., weather Airmen prepare about 200 flight weather briefings a day.
“About 50 percent of flights that fly through the continental U.S. actually go through us,” said Reed. “That’s all branches, including Guard and Reserve.”
Pilots rely on the work of the 15th OWS for the safety of both the aircraft and, more importantly, the aircrews.
“We don’t want pilots flying in severe weather and either damaging aircraft or, worst case, losing their life,” said Staff Sgt. David Culbertson, 15th OWS shift supervisor.
Their work is also crucial to molding the future of the Air Force, as many of the flights they brief are for pilots in training.
“A lot of the training that goes on stateside ends up having to get safety briefings from us,” Culbertson said. “They need to get in the required flying hours so they can eventually fly down range and complete whatever their mission is there.”
Whether they’re assisting with severe weather preparations or providing potentially life-saving information to pilots, the 15th OWS’s top priority is clear: To protect.
“Day-to-day, I realize how important this is, just with how busy we are and how many people rely on us,” Reed said. “We do it to protect assets, to protect people.”