AFIT professor named AETC Weather Field Grade Officer of the Year Published Jan. 20, 2023 By Katie Scott Air Force Institute of Technology Maj. Peter Saunders, assistant professor of atmospheric science at the Air Force Institute of Technology, is Air Education and Training Command’s Weather Field Grade Officer of the Year for 2022. (Contributed photo) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Maj. Peter Saunders was selected as Air Education and Training Command’s Weather Field Grade Officer of the Year for 2022. Saunders is an assistant professor of atmospheric science within the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management. He will now compete at the Air Force level. “Major Saunders has been absolutely critical to the success of the AFIT atmospheric science program,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Fitch, assistant professor of atmospheric science and chair of its curriculum. “Students and faculty value his patience and reliability as a teacher, adviser, mentor and colleague, and rely upon it daily.” For the award cycle of October 2021 through last September, Saunders was responsible for obtaining $87,000 in grants, bolstering the atmospheric science program’s research capability for machine learning and modeling studies. He is pioneering global lightning mapper optical energy studies through analysis of regional frequency-distribution peaks and applying cutting-edge vector autoregressive moving average modeling to machine-learning processes. He also advised six master’s students and served as a doctorate committee member for students in the Graduate School’s Engineering Physics Department. Last January, he presented his research on lightning-modeling techniques at the 102nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, furthering expertise in space-based lightning detection and characterization. “The diversity of research we perform here at AFIT is incredible,” Saunders said. “In addition to working on studies related to my expertise in weather modeling, I have had the opportunity to broaden my research horizons far beyond what I thought was possible. Even more importantly, being able to educate students in the field that I love has been such an enriching and amazing experience.” Saunders has served in the Air Force since 2011. His first assignment was at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, at the 26th Operational Weather Squadron, where he worked as a forecaster, staff duty officer and flight commander in one of the weather hubs that services both Air Force and Army airfields and test ranges across the Southeast. After his time in Louisiana, Saunders went to Kunsan Air Base at the 8th Fighter Wing, where he worked as the wing weather officer and operations group executive officer. After his South Korea tour, he was assigned to Hill Air Force Base in Utah to serve as weather flight commander for the 75th Air Base Wing, where he was granted a doctoral student slot through the AFIT Civilian Institution program. Saunders earned his doctoral degree in 2020 from the University of Utah in atmospheric science. His primary research focus was data assimilation and cloud initiation of tropical cyclones and their rain bands. He then joined the AFIT faculty, where his research includes furthering the goals of the AFIT Sensor and Scene Emulation Tool, encompassing cloud and lightning climatological data in an effort to create realistic scenes of these phenomena in real time. His research also covers data assimilation of radio-occultation observations for use in high-resolution model wind forecasts for the Air Force Technical Applications Center. Following his AFIT assignment, Saunders will attend in-residence intermediate developmental education at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. “He will do great things at Air Command and Staff College and beyond when he departs in the summer of 2023, but he will be sorely missed by the students and faculty of the program,” Fitch said.