Keeping Eyes on the Sky

10 Jul 2009 | Pfc. Spencer M. Hardwick

Throughout the Corps’ history, weather forecasts have influenced tactical decision-making. When Marines landed at Inchon, forecasters advised them to wait for high tide to allow the amphibious ships to cross the reef. In the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan, weather forecasts ensure Marines stay in the fight and accomplish the mission during sand storms as safely as possible.

The modern Marine forecaster carries on the critical, behind-the-scenes legacy of informing commanders of weather conditions, ensuring Marines stay safe and in the fight. The forecasters of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron work seven days a week on the flightline determining flag conditions and watching for storm systems.

“We mainly act as a liaison to the pilots here,” explained Cpl. Michael Haas, a forecaster assigned to the H&HS meteorology and oceanography section. “Before any aircraft on this base can fly, they have to turn in a flight plan. A flight weather brief is part of that plan and it comes from us.”

The Corps recently changed its organization of weather stations. Originally, each base handled its own weather forecasting and acted independently. Now, they are grouped into a hub system, with Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC being the main station for the East Coast.

“Cherry Point handles most of our old duties,” explained Haas. “The idea behind it was: fewer people, same service. It’s working pretty well, honestly. I mean, there are some kinks they are working out but I think it’s a pretty good idea. The main thing we handle now are over-the-counter briefs.

Due to the new organization, the flight weather plan portion of their flight brief is handed down from MCAS Cherry Point. It’s a general overview of the weather conditions for that time period. If pilots want a more detailed description, they go to the METOC center on the flightline and ask for what is called an over-the-counter weather brief.

“It’s very important that they have as much information as possible,” explained Haas. “If a pilot encounters a weather phenomenon, he needs to know exactly what he is dealing with. There are actually weather systems that can make planes drop from the sky. I usually end up giving about four over-the-counter briefs a day.”

The forecasters are also responsible for activating the frequently-heard siren system aboard the Air Station and for determining the flag conditions. Everyday between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., the forecasters have to check the temperature and water evaporation rate every 30 minutes. During all other hours, they check it hourly.

“If someone has a heat-related injury because we announced the wrong flag condition, then that falls on our shoulders,” said Haas. “It’s really important that we do our job correctly because it affects peoples’ lives.

People don’t really think about how weather affects daily routine but it really does. We’re here to keep people aware of it so they stay safe.”

“Our climate and weather forecasts help keep our pilots in the sky,” said Sgt. James Christian, a forecaster assigned to METOC. “Mission planning is essential to any Marine Corps action and I am proud to play a vital role in that.”