The weather warriors

The U.S. military fights in all sorts of weather, so our armed forces know full well the value of an accurate forecast. And when commanders want a reliable weather report before moving troops, setting out to sea or calling in an air strike, they look toward Asheville.

The 88 staffers of the little-known 14th Weather Squadron, based in downtown Asheville’s Federal Building on Patton Avenue, include enlisted personnel, federal civil-service employees and private contractors. According to its mission statement, the Air Force unit is dedicated to “rapidly disseminating customized atmospheric and space weather information and services to maximize combat effectiveness of DoD personnel and weapon systems through expert receipt, quality control, storage and tailoring of earth/space environmental data.”

That’s a big brief, and one with a long history locally. “Since 1952, Asheville has been home to the data-processing and storage function” for Air Force weather researchers, Technical Director Tom Kotz explains. In 1998, he notes, the Air Force moved the “applications function” here as well, and the unit was known as the Air Force Combat Climatology Center until a 2007 reorganization gave the 14th its current name.

Climate information provided by the 14th has helped “determine potential locations suitable for an air base if the United States relocates from Kyrgyzstan”; guided “engineers for weapon systems designs”; assisted “the space shuttle program”; and supported “C-17A airdrops in Antarctica to support the National Science Foundation research,” Kotz wrote in a recent e-mail.

Although security concerns limit the amount of information made public, a close read of online newsletters from the 14th and its predecessor unit gleans more specific descriptions of how the squadron works to “best enhance … war-fighting capabilities using climatology,” as one Air Force document puts it. An October 2007 newsletter told how the weather warriors helped a unit based in Southeast Asia identify “start and end times of dense fog during the winter months” to guide decisions on when to launch and land aircraft. A July 2007 newsletter touted a computer application developed by the squadron—Cloud-Free Line of Sight, or CFLOS—to help all branches of the military design and test optical components of their transport and weapons systems. And another one from April of that year said the 14th had provided Iraqi weather data to help an Army contractor develop a “ballistic vest cooling system … to cool the soldier’s body temperatures while wearing body armor in battlefield conditions during extreme heat.”

To most Asheville residents, the war zones where our military is engaged seem a world away. Not so for 14th Weather Squadron personnel, whose work reaches to the very epicenter of diverse U.S. combat operations. As a senior officer with the 14th recently wrote in an Air Force publication, “The bottom line is to give war-fighters the environmental information when, where and how it is needed to put bombs on target.”
Info: 14th Weather Squadron, 151 Patton Ave. Room 120, Asheville NC 28801 (271-4291; https://notus2.afccc.af.mil/SCISPublic/).

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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