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    Florida Guard two-time champions of weather challenge

    Florida Guard two-time champions of weather challenge

    Photo By Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Smith | A graphic announcing the winners of Thor's Forecast Challenge, a U.S. Air Force...... read more read more

    JACKSONVILLE, FL, UNITED STATES

    11.16.2022

    Story by Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Smith 

    125th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

    JACKSONVILLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Fla. – Airmen assigned to the 159th Weather Flight, a geographically-separated unit of the 125th Fighter Wing, bested 66 teams to win Thor’s Forecast Challenge, a demanding two-week competition that tests weather flights’ ability to develop hour-by-hour forecasts for locations across the globe.

    The 2021 reigning champions defeated teams from across the three components of the Air Force to continue their winning streak.

    Thor’s Challenge requires teams to forecast 24 hours-worth of weather in locations that ranged from Taiwan to Nigeria to Poland. Every day, weather forecasters had to predict correct wind directions, wind speeds, ceiling heights, dew points, and temperatures using computer models, human observation, and satellite data. At the end of each 24-hour period, weather forecasts were scored on the accuracy of their projections.

    “The competition originated in 2017 as a way to build camaraderie and challenge the weather community to test what they can bring to the fight,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jason Ramos, deputy 1W career field manager, USAF Headquarters Weather Force Management. “We are a broad career field with units all over the globe supporting a wide range of Army, Air Force and Space Force operations. This is a fun way to get everyone on the same page and test one of our core functions as weather professionals, which is to predict the environment.”

    The team, led by 159th WF Commander Maj. Matthew Tanner, included Tech Sgt. Donald Knopps, Tech Sgt. Jonathan Miller and Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Durban, who all serve as part-time Airmen in the Florida Air National Guard. They competed against their active-duty and reserve counterparts remotely – exclusively collaborating through e-mail and text to produce weather forecasts from separate locations in Florida and Georgia, said Tanner.

    “What’s remarkable is that we had to juggle full-time civilian priorities, like work and school, in between working on a forecast,” said Tanner. “We really had to be efficient with our time to keep up with the demands of the challenge and other outside priorities we had going on.”

    Durban, who’s been assigned to the unit for three years, is a full-time student who works night shifts outside of the Guard. During the challenge period, she tacked on competition requirements at the end of her already full day, she said.

    “I’d come home and stay up until one or two in the morning trying to pour into the forecast and then hand it off to people working the night shift,” she said. “Time management was really difficult because I was trying to juggle so many things but also give my all to the challenge.”

    Even still, Durban maintained that she was fueled by the versatility of the challenge and looked forward to disentangling data for a new weather event each day.

    “I’m a huge nerd when it comes to weather,” she said. “I absolutely loved all the different locations in the world and I’m a really competitive person, so learning who was on top everyday was really fun and gratifying for me.”

    The team consistently ranked among the top teams throughout the challenge, eliminating several teams in the first week, and outperforming the best 16 teams in the second week’s bracket challenge. Then, the last assignment standing between the team and another win was forecasting weather for St. George Island, a tiny remote island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. The difficulty of the final location gutted their confidence and stunted their momentum.

    “The location is so austere that there’s not a lot of data available,” said Tanner. “There was snow, gale-force winds and a lot of changing weather patterns happening over the 96-hour period. I felt pretty certain that we would not come away with a win again due to the level of difficulty.”

    But in the end, a victory for the team was indeed in the forecast.

    “I felt a surge of joy and massive elation when they announced we won,” he said. “For us to be able to balance our civilian careers and compete as a secondary duty is a testament to the way we train and interpret data.”

    Tanner credits their win to an emphasis on human interpretation, expertise, and discernment over raw data output by computer models. This strategy proved successful not only during Thor’s Challenge, but operationally in the field for customers reliant on accurate forecasts to help in mission planning in various climates throughout the world.

    “We are going against the grain because we are not holding steady to this idea that we should take what the model gives us and run with it,” he said. “I truly believe that the next big fight is going to happen in degraded operations, and more than likely computer models won’t be available. That means we need people to analyze raw data, observe with our own eyes and use prior experience to develop a great product. That’s how we’re going to win the next fight.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 11.16.2022
    Date Posted: 11.16.2022 13:54
    Story ID: 433382
    Location: JACKSONVILLE, FL, US 

    Web Views: 213
    Downloads: 0

    PUBLIC DOMAIN