TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – As he connects to a satellite far above Earth, he looks over one of his weather maps and sees wind speed of 56 knots and rising on its way to Travis AFB. He springs into action sending out warnings to the base, informing all personnel of the impending severe weather approaching and the appropriate actions to take to ensure their safety.
This is how Staff Sgt. Christopher Hahaj, 60th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster, responded to the severe wind storm Travis AFB received a week ago.
“Our mission on Travis is to monitor local weather patterns, provide briefs to outgoing and incoming pilots about what to expect during their next flight and release weather forecasts to the base,” said Master Sgt. Estabon Acosta, 60th OSS weather flight chief. “We have plenty of resources to ensure that we are on top of keeping the base and pilots properly informed.”
Not only is the Travis AFB Weather Flight equipped, they are also trained to know how weather can affect aircraft in detail, something that your average forecaster isn’t trained to look into.
“There may be other outlets for getting weather updates off base, but they don’t take into account the minute intricacies on how the weather can affect aircraft,” said Hahaj. “We look into weather patterns and advise pilots on what the best course of action is, whether it is to go over a storm, around lightning or take a new route entirely.”
With a small office of 11 Airmen, the Weather Flight is tasked with keeping watch and warning the base. The Weather Flight has had to put out 203 weather warning this year alone.
“Whether it’s a clear day or a raging tornado, we keep watch on local weather patterns 24/7 and act accordingly,” said Hahaj. “When the weather does begin to ramp up and conditions become too dangerous to fly in, we declare a weather warning for the base which is our way of warning personnel to take the necessary actions to remain as safe as possible.
“If there is lightning within five miles of the base, then you should probably head inside the nearest building, or if winds go up to 35 knots, then you shouldn’t be repairing or maintaining anything in high places like hangars or aircraft,” said Hahaj. “We cannot tell you what to do, we are here to warn you. It’s up to your leadership what actions you take afterwards.”
Airmen forecasters are also trained to know what to look for in the horizon to help them predict the weather without equipment.
“To ensure we are tracking the weather as accurately as possible, we are able to utilize satellites and other equipment that allow us to view and record temperature, altimeter, cloud coverage, visibility, wind speed and direction,” said Hahaj. “This is how we are able to give pilots the best routes to go, to make it to their destinations with minimal risk. During our technical training, we are trained on how to tell the weather without the gadgets, so we use them now more for confirming our forecasts rather than relying on them.”
Hahaj said he has been fascinated with the weather since he was a child, it didn’t matter if it was a stormy or clear day.
“Growing up, I loved the rain, storms, sunny days and found severe weather interesting, it always seemed unpredictable and different,” Hahaj said. “When it comes to my job now, I’m a perfectionist. I always try to predict the correct weather and chances are, especially with weather, you’re never going to be 100% accurate.”
Hahaj was able to turn his passion for weather into motivation.
“As long as the mission gets completed, I’m able to feel accomplished in the work I do,” Hahaj said. “I know it’s not going to go smoothly every time, but as long as I can ensure the safety of the crew members going out on missions and the personnel on base, I’ll be able to clock off of my shift knowing I did my job to the best of my ability.”
Thanks to the Weather Flight Travis AFB, home to the largest air mobility wing in the Air Force, is able to perform appropriate actions in severe weather. It beckons the question, “What if they weren’t here?”
“If Travis didn’t have the Weather Flight to inform the pilots on what to expect that day, there would be a large increase in waiting time before flying missions could begin and risk during the mission,” said Acosta. “Pilots need to know what to expect during a flight, performing a flight mission without our weather briefing isn’t just risky, it’s dangerous. When you’re in the air, a storm can form quickly and will usually leave pilots little time to react. That is why we guide the pilots beforehand so they know what to expect and can act accordingly when the time comes for action.
“I’m humbled to lead such an amazing team of Airmen with such talent and motivation,” Acosta said. “This job keeps us sharp because there’s no other option but success, knowing if we don’t keep our base up to date, the weather could lead to Airmen getting hurt or killed, which means failure is not an option.”