17 airmen track weather, keep Shaw safe

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A troop of 17 airmen at Shaw Air Force Base ensures every Team Shaw member is aware of inclement weather, such as high winds, snow, tornadoes and hurricanes.

The 20th Operations Support Squadron weather flight is responsible for providing pilots accurate and relevant information so they are able to complete their mission.

"A lot of our impact started really shining as far back as the invasion of Normandy, D-Day," Staff Sgt. Kayla Padgett, 20th OSS weather flight weather forecaster, said. "D-Day was rescheduled based on what the weather forecasters told them, and had they not rescheduled, they wouldn't have been able to be as lethal as they were on that day. We are able to provide the information pilots need in order to be lethal."

The flight's forecasts help protect roughly $3.4 billion in Department of Defense assets such as people, buildings and aircraft while ensuring approximately 6,500 people on base are notified about weather events when they are happening.

"If we tell (the pilots) the (weather) is bad, they change their mission and where they are flying; we are responsible for making sure the planes and the people in them come back safely," Padgett said. "We're also responsible for everyone on base and their safety when it comes to inclement weather, such as a tornado coming or if there are high winds, as well as ensuring we provide the commander with the information he needs to protect the people on base."

Weather flight airmen keep track of the weather over South Carolina, areas of Georgia and airspaces over the East coast, covering more than 50,000 square miles.

"We are a fully integrated weather flight," said Master Sgt. Kelly Hendricks, 20th OSS weather flight flight chief. "This means we have people in the fighter squadrons with all the pilots. We go on temporary duties and deployments with the pilots as well. Anywhere they go, we go."

There are three different sections within weather flight: airfield services, mission weather and staff.

Airfield services observe the weather hourly, provide watches, warnings and advisories and get any transient aircrew the weather updates they need.

The mission weather section posts weather flight airmen in each of the 20th Fighter Wing fighter squadrons and brief F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilots. These airmen give about 550 briefings to pilots and wing leadership per month. They must arrive to work two hours prior to a briefing to observe the weather and prepare to brief pilots before takeoff. Depending on the forecast provided for a certain airspace, a pilot's flight pattern or mission for the day may change.

The staff briefs 20th FW leadership during hurricanes, floods or other inclement weather events, keeping base leaders updated on current weather and advising the best courses of action to keep Team Shaw's people and assets safe.