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Aiming to get it right: whatever the weather

By 1Lt Alexander Barb
First published in
SFOR Informer #97, September 27, 2000

Tuzla - What will the weather be like tomorrow? For SFOR that’s a serious question and that is why meteorology is taken seriously in Tuzla.
"Weather is not only forecasts. It's also the impact it can get onto the operations. All my forecasters keep that in mind," said Maj. Jim Cotturone, US 401st Expeditionary Air Base Group. He's working at Eagle Base in Tuzla, MND-N HQ. "For example, if the clouds are too low, you can't fly the helicopter because of bad visibility and because of the height of the mountains. So, you'll have to drive a car."
Every morning, at nine o'clock, Maj. Cotturone briefs Maj. Gen. Robert Halverson on the weather situation and its possible evolution for the next hours or days. He relies on five weather stations. Most of them are led by the U.S. Air Force which works with the Army.
The army has its own forecasters, but no real unit dedicated to the mission such as Cotturone's soldiers are. "You should remember that 25% of the air force staff is supporting the army. And the forecasters are part of that."
The main weather station is based a few kilometer from Tuzla in Comanche Base. Four soldiers are working thereunder Lt. Danielle Lewis' management. On the roof of the station, between parabolas and others light sensors, Senior Airman Dan Bigley, weather observer, scans the sky with his binoculars. His mission : make the clouds talk. The top of the surrounding mountains are clouded with a light fog. Fall is coming.
These first observations come to complete those appearing on the radar and satellite screens. Waves are sent away by an antenna. They hit the clouds and come back. The results are analysed by the radar so you can forecast the weather. But as the station is surrounded by mountains, the radar makes mistakes analysing the waves repercussion onto the hills as clouds. To solve that problem, Lt Lewis has picked out on the screen the locations of those natural walls.They also use a satellite observations.
On the technical plan, the analysis is done by infra-red and printed on a sheet where the clouds appear in white. The whiter it is, the bigger the clouds are.
The radio is crackling. It's a pilot calling. Immediately, Ssgt Dave Lewis takes the question and answers it in few seconds.
Cotturone's forecasters never hesitate in going on the ground with the Army. Tsgt Raymond Perez, weather analyst, does remember.
"I joined the air force 17 years ago, and I've been working in the weather forecasts since 13 years," he said. "I remember, during an exercise last year, while I was in Bosnia-Hercegovina (BiH) for the second time from April to August, that the weather was horrible. We were in the mud up to our knees and vehicles had to stop. So everyone slept there. But I have to say that it was the best supporting operation I've ever done."
Comanche Base's station also work with another American one based in Sembach, in Germany. "We're a kind of weather intelligence, because the general knows where the soldiers and the equipment are. The information we give to him helps him in taking decisions and manage the situation," concluded Maj. Cotturone.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
SFOR at Work