Forecasting a deployment: 13th MEU METOC Marines

30 Aug 2007 | Lance Cpl. T. M. Stewman 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Imagine having the responsibility of weather forecasting for combat operations. Now imagine having the responsibility of advising military leaders on weather conditions that could either hinder or assist future operations.

To be a fortune teller of weather isn’t an easy task. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s weather Marines, unlike the six o’clock news, prove that weather forecasting and observation is more than blue screens and good looks.

The weather forecasters predict meteorological conditions, making an educated opinion of future weather environments. Typical duties include the retrieval and analysis of meteorological oceanographic (METOC) data to formulate short and long-range forecasts of weather conditions affecting all elements of Marine Air-Ground Task Force operations.

“On the basic level, forecasters analyze and interpret satellite and radar patterns in the atmosphere,” said Sgt. Brock Hemminger, 13th MEU METOC and Somerset, Pa. native.

But the forecasters cannot predict conditions on their own. They need weather observers to produce METOC data.

Duties of weather observers include observing, recording, coding, disseminating, retrieving and decoding METOC data. Weather observers are also required to perform preventive maintenance on the sophisticated METOC computer systems and equipment used to obtain data. One common piece of equipment used is the Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS).

The AWOS is a solar-powered, mobile system equipped with sensors that give readings on wind, temperature, pressure, visibility, humidity and precipitation occurrence and totals.

“This equipment is the hub of our daily job,” said Lance Cpl. Richard Duran Jr., METOC observer and Forest Hills, Calif. native. “It’s necessary in our job to keep an eye on weather trends, and that is what this gear allows us to do.”

The observers also use handheld equipment that is similar to the AWOS but not as accurate. The Kestal 4000 is a portable AWOS. It’s very beneficial to Marines when bigger systems aren’t practical.

“It’s a good piece of equipment considering it can fit in your pocket,” said Duran. “The gear is perfect for when we need to get a reading within a short period of time.”

Because Iraqi summers are usually hot and dusty “a lot of people think that being here makes our job easy, but that’s not true at all,” says Duran. “The stakes are high out here. The information that we receive, gather and analyze can ultimately affect the safety of Marines.”

A MEU’s weather detachment consisting of two forecasters and two observers is smaller than that of a Marine Expeditionary Force. They often rely on numerous military weather agencies for data because a MEU does not have the capabilities to transport the amount of equipment it takes to retrieve information.

Hemminger explained it takes a collective effort from all branches and units to get accurate data for future weather conditions.

“Since weather in the Northern Hemisphere moves west to east we rely on our counterpart’s data from Al Asad to make our predictions,” he said. “There are still a lot of variables we must factor in before coming up with a final forecast.”

Few things in this world have the ability to change as quickly as the weather, even in Iraq.

Accurate and up-to-date weather information is essential to the safety of Marines and the overall success of a deployed unit. The METOC Marines of the 13th MEU get the job done every day, preparing Marines in the air, on the ground and at sea to successfully conduct combat operations.

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit