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Laughlin sergeant finds way to increase dust storm prediction accuracy
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Staff Sgt. Thomas Jenkins, 47th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight NCO in charge of weather systems, monitors the weather here Sept. 16. Jenkins recently developed a formula to increase dust storm forecasts accuracy from 10 to 80 percent. The Air Force recognized this achievement and are scheduled to begin training personnel and distributing to areas of responsibility that will benefit from the new tool. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Scott Saldukas)
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Laughlin sergeant finds way to increase dust storm prediction accuracy

Posted 9/26/2011   Updated 9/26/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas
47th Flying Training Wing public affairs


9/26/2011 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- 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, 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, realized that 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 rating by 80 percent. The Air Force recognized this achievement and are scheduled to begin training personnel and distributing to areas of responsibility that will benefit from the new tool.

"We typically work with water based weather such as rain, snow and thunderstorms," he said. "When you're out in CENTOM (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, it 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 to this point have essentially been a guess since its accuracy rate was 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 they will have air support for whatever immediate mission they are on and have it more reliably," Jenkins said. "When it's out in support of troops on the ground, it will be more accurate and they will understand the dangers of the battlefield beyond a human's capabilities. This will allow troops to get where they need to go."

Tech. Sgt. Brian Aragon, 47th OSS Weather Operations 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 un-forecasted 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 that 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 explained that 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 ops, that speaks volumes about their character," he said.

Even though Jenkins left his work center better than when he got it in 2010, he will be improving and impacting work centers globally for years to come.




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