AGADEZ, Niger --
A team of weather forecasters are already making an impact upon arrival to Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger.
Air Base 201 was hit by four sandstorms throughout the last two weeks. The three-man weather team worked around the clock to forecast and notify service members and civilians on base before each storm.
“The base reacted well, and we're grateful to finally have weather personnel on station to improve our ability to predict this type of storm in the future,” said U.S. Air Force Col Cameron Pringle, 409th Air Expeditionary Group Commander.
The weather team’s notification process enables base members to ensure they have the proper tools and protective equipment needed to prepare for incoming sand storms.
“This allows people who are working outside, who are not in a shelter, to kind of keep an eye out and get to shelter quickly if they need to,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Corey Reimer, 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron weather flight chief. “It is advised that everyone carries goggles and a scarf or facemask - something to breathe through – so you’re not caught outside in a situation where you can’t see and you can’t breathe.”
During the first storm, visibility was restricted down to about 200 meters, according to U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Samuel Batterson, 724th EABS weather forecaster.
“During the second storm, visibility was at probably about half of that,” Batterson said.
The third storm was the worst of the four, according to the AB 201 weather forecasters.
“There was a large thunderstorm complex that developed Southeast of the base and it was moving East into our region,” Batterson said. “The thunderstorm then collapsed, causing a massive amount of air to move down through the atmosphere, which then caused a lot of dust and wind to spread throughout the AOR.”
The necessary ingredients of a dust storm include strong surface winds and a source of dust to be picked up and carried in the wind. The third and largest sand storm sustained winds in excess of 50 knots.
“I observed the big outflow coming towards us,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anthony Montero, 724th EABS weather forecaster. “It was a big wall of dust.”
The color of light from the sand clouds reflected off of the sand and tents on base.
“When I went outside it was red and then it transitioned to black,” Montero said. “It was almost like night because it just blocked out the sun. It went from red to black in about 10 to 15 minutes.”
After the storm, multiple units consisting of Airmen, soldiers and civilians on base combined to clean up the aftermath.
“Everybody really just pitched in and had everything back together real quick,” Reimer said.
According to Reimer, his Airmen both made his job as a flight chief easier. Both Batterson and Montero have experience with forecasting sand storms.
Montero, who is deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, is serving his first deployment. He is accustomed to seeing sandstorms in New Mexico, but not to the extent of what he is experiencing during his tour in Northwest Africa.
“On a personal level, this was something I had never experienced to that severity,” Montero said.
Montero arrived to Agadez before the other two members on the weather team, which resulted in him taking on higher responsibilities that a full deployed team of people would normally be working, with both administrative setup and forecasting.
“It was a challenge, but it was an opportunity to prove myself and really show leadership that I’m here to work,” Montero said. “I also really wanted to make my home-unit back at Holloman proud. I’m representing my unit back home.”
On the other hand, Batterson, who is also serving on his first deployment, already had experience forecasting the weather for Air Base 201 from Kapaun Air Station, Germany.
“Having an Airman that has been forecasting for this region before is quite a relief,” Reimer said. “Batterson was our expert as a senior airman. We were able to learn some of the tricks that he used forecasting for this region back home.”
Today, Batterson has opportunities to actually see and experience a sand storm firsthand, whereas before, he was just tracking the weather on a computer screen.
“It’s really interesting. You really get to feel the high winds and witness the sand everywhere getting in the tents and you see how it really impacts missions and construction here,” Batterson said. “When you get things right, people approach you and thank you for it. Getting that immediate and personal interaction with people is probably the best part I’ve had so far.”
Overall, as weather forecasters, Air Base 201’s first-ever weather team stands ready to provide trusted and accurate forecasts to support the U.S. Africa Command mission to work by, with, and through their African partners to respond to crisis.
“In the past week, Air Base 201 has been hit with numerous thunderstorms and sandstorms,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Francis Tyson, 724th EABS commander. “The advanced warning has provided base leadership with the ability to move their personnel and resources out of harm’s way during these storms.”