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Laughlin sergeant creates formula, increases dust storm prediction accuracy

by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

9/28/2011 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- The saying "leave it better than when you found it" is constantly used in the military with all the moving and relocating that is done.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Jenkins, the 47th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight NCO in charge of weather systems, did just that and more after a recent deployment to Iraq.

Jenkins, while deployed to Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, realized a better method to predict dust storms could be developed. He decided to give himself a research project before devising a plan that ultimately improves dust storm forecasts accuracy ratings by 80 percent. Air Force officials recognized this achievement and are scheduled to begin training personnel and distributing the new tool to areas of responsibility that will benefit from it.

"We typically work with water-based weather such as rain, snow and thunderstorms," Jenkins said. "When you're out in (U.S. Central Command), 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, (the forecast) tends to be a little more unreliable than what your typical weather forecast would be. So, I did about five months of field research looking for a way to take the tools we had and make them work better. I was able to come up with a math formula that accomplished that."

He explained how predicting dust storms up to this point has essentially been a guess since accuracy rate were between 10 and 15 percent.

"When using the math formula, we were able to raise the accuracy of our forecast to 80 percent," Jenkins said.

While many state-side locations don't have a need to generate a forecast for dust storms, his procedure will be vital in many aspects of mission operations in forward operating areas.

"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.

Tech. Sgt. Brian Aragon, the 47th OSS Weather Operations Flight NCOIC, explained the severity of dust storms, how they can affect a mission and how delays, cancellations, mishaps and equipment damage are a few of the thing that can go wrong.

"Blowing dust and dust storms can provide huge impacts to missions and to ground personnel," he said. "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."

He noted how every tool available is needed while in a hostile location.

"Everything we do is so time sensitive and element critical that we need every available tool, product and method that we can spare," Aragon 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."

While Jenkins and Aragon have known each other since 2007, it was in the past year that Aragon helped Jenkins show his findings to people who would allow it to prosper and be implemented around the globe.

Aragon referred Jenkins to Gordon Brooks, who works in the modeling and research section at the Air Force Weather Agency, with hopes that he would be interested.

"I used to work for the Air Force Weather Agency, and Mr. Brooks works constantly to improve the products we use to choose the weather for the battle," Aragon said. "I had worked with him in the past and this seemed like something that he absolutely needed to hear about."

Jenkins said the research has been completed and has been approved by the AFWA at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

"They are going to begin training and distributing it to the field in CENTCOM in fiscal year 2012," said Jenkins.

Aragon said that when an Airmen 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 a commonplace for how we conduct standard (operations), that speaks volumes about (his) character," he said.

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