From his desk at Scott Air Force Base, meteorologist Harold Duanne Eifert can see a troublesome sandstorm brewing in the Middle East.
“I can see typhoons in Japan, I can see a thunderstorm in Texas, I can see a dust storm in Afghanistan,” Eifert said. “On the same computer, at the same time — I can see it all.”
Watching the weather in far-flung corners of the world has been Eifert’s job in the U.S. Air Force for years. Though he retired from active duty after 20 years of service, Eifert continues to work as a civilian meteorologist with the 618th Air Operations Center, keeping an eye on weather conditions that may affect military missions near and far.
His role is crucial to the 618th, formerly called the Tanker Airlift Control Center, which manages a fleet of more than a thousand aircraft involved in moving troops around the world, mid-air refueling of fighters and other aircraft, aeromedical evacuations and other support operations.
“We give hundreds of briefings a day,” Eifert said. “It’s 24/7, 365 days — it doesn’t stop.”
Eifert, 57, of Mascoutah, Ill., grew up in Michigan and joined the Air Force before he graduated from high school in 1980. He said he knew he couldn’t afford college but he wanted to serve his country and get an education, too.
Initially, he was trained as an auto mechanic and was assigned to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, then to Osan, Korea. He’d always been fascinated with weather growing up and when he learned that the Air Force had a meteorology program, he requested to cross-train.
He trained first as a weather observer at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Ill., and then was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota before returning to Chanute for an extensive, eight-month training program as a weather forecaster.
After graduating at the top of his class, he then returned to Ellsworth, which is where he experienced firsthand some of the severe weather he had studied. He remembers one storm in particular that was accompanied by baseball-sized hail that totaled his car and broke out windows at his home.
A protector of resources
Though they work behind the scenes, meteorologists play an integral role in not only military missions around the world but also in protecting personnel and resources here at home, Eifert said. At Ellsworth, for example, the safety of aircrews, combat-ready bombers and missile silos was at stake. When aircraft and personnel deployed to Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he and other Air Force meteorologists provided weather briefings to help ensure their safety en route and on the ground.
Eifert later spent two years at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Guam, which was responsible for issuing tropical cyclone warnings to military personnel throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Mother Nature doesn’t read weather charts
Though he retired from active duty in 2001 as a master sergeant, he still enjoys keeping an eye on the weather and helping train younger weather forecasters at Scott Air Force Base. Through the years, he said, meteorologists have had to adjust to rapidly changing technology, which has led to numerous advances in developing accurate forecasts.
Still, it’s impossible to get it right consistently.
“We all get it wrong sometimes,” he said. “We can’t be 100 percent no matter how much the technology has improved. It’s impossible. Mother Nature doesn’t read weather charts.”
But he’s right often enough that his wife, Ila, has learned not to worry about overly dramatic snowfall predictions she hears on TV.
“They’ll say 8 inches of snow and I’ll ask him and he’ll say, ‘two, trust me,’” she said. “And he’s rarely wrong. I’ve stopped listening to them and life has been easier. But if he tells me to take cover, I’ll take cover.”