More about Navy Weather Forecasting


The Navy's need for meteorological and oceanographic (METOC) information is critical since the weather in both the atmosphere and the ocean can affect every naval operation. Personnel safety can be adversely impacted, as can aircraft and ship movements, sensor performance, and warfighting tactics. Weather prediction is difficult anyway, but even more so for the Navy, which plans and executes operations on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. A fleet staff may require information on the likelihood of high seas, ten days in advance and three thousand miles from the forecaster's home base. Or, a carrier strike-planning cell may need fog probability on an hourly basis in a 10 km box.

     To meet these challenges, the Navy's METOC Command has a hierarchy of several support echelons, each with a unique mission of turning METOC data into METOC information. On land, two large METOC production centers, Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) and the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO); five regional forecast centers, each aligned with the five fleets--(Norfolk (Second Fleet), Rota, Spain (Sixth Fleet), Baharain (Fifth Fleet), Yokuska, Japan, (Seventh Fleet), and San Diego (Third Fleet); and METOC detachments located on naval air stations or near fleet concentrations.

At sea, METOC personnel are integrated into the ship's company on aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and they are components on fleet staffs. Additionally, the METOC community has developed quick-reaction, mobile forecast groups called Mobile Environmental Teams (MET). These teams carry with them all the equipment needed to accomplish their forecast mission. They can be sent to special units operating at sea or forward areas ashore.

     In general, the top-level echelon has the largest scale of interest, while the lowest echelon level has the smallest. For example, production centers typically create global or large area products, such as FNMOC's NOGAPS (Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System). Regional Centers produce forecasts for major operating areas, such as a high-seas warning in the Eastern Pacific. More narrowly focused products are those of a forecast team on an aircraft carrier, for example, that are typically concerned with the weather over the carrier during flight operations, or the conditions at extended areas in which the carrier's pilots might operate.


The Navy's military METOC community consists of highly specialized officer and enlisted personnel, as well as land-based civilians. A professional corps of nearly 400 special duty officers leads the community. METOC officers' backgrounds vary, but most begin their naval service in those tactical communities receiving METOC support, i.e., the surface, aviation, and submarine communities. By serving an initial tour as a warfighter, these officers can help the METOC community understand the needs of their tactical customer base.

     Many METOC officers have an undergraduate degree in one of the physical sciences, and all career METOC officers must obtain an advanced degree in meteorology and oceanography. Yet they rarely produce the weather forecasts for the warfighter. Rather, METOC officers must typically spend their time in leadership roles that require direct interaction with their warfighter customers instead of analyzing data and writing forecasts.

     Thus, the burden of producing METOC forecasts falls to a relatively small community of enlisted sailors called Aerographer's Mates (AGs). Selection into the community requires a high level of math and science, resulting in less than 1,500 AGs in the entire U.S. Navy. The AG community consists of three components: the observer, the forecaster, and the supervisor.

The observer is the apprentice AG. Prior to their first tour of duty, apprentice AGs attend A School, an eight-to-ten week course in basic METOC instruction. Upon graduation, apprentice AGs become part of a forecast team, which takes the weather observations that become the basis for the weather forecast. Given the proliferation of METOC information technology (IT), and that apprentice AGs have become the primary watch team technicians, they are thus required to know how to operate many IT systems.

     The observer works for a forecaster, and this forecaster is an AG who has risen from the observer level after a four-to-five year period and graduated from forecaster school (C School). Forecaster C School requires intensive training over a six-month period, where the AG learns the advanced concepts of dynamical meteorology and oceanography. From C School, graduates return to the fleet to practice what they've been taught. After successfully performing the duties of a METOC forecaster for several years, the AG is typically promoted to a supervisory position.

     AG duties slowly move away from hands-on METOC forecasting to overseeing and training the newer forecasters. The more senior the AG, the less likely to be doing METOC forecasts. (Note: this is not typical of other forecasting organizations, such as the National Weather Service (NWS). At a typical NWS forecast office, the main forecasters often have a master's level education and years of experience in the locale for which they write the forecast).


As you would expect, these simple descriptions of responsibilities for METOC organizations and people described above do not apply in all cases, although ten years ago they would have. Today, this is no longer the case because the METOC community is in the midst of a technological revolution. While it is true that advancing technology has changed how weather forecasts are produced, the support structure has stayed essentially the same for nearly thirty years. This structure relies on the production centers to feed the regional center, which, in turn, feeds the smaller-scale forecast groups. All players are tied together by a dedicated data pipe. Today, the changes in science, specifically mesoscale meteorology, and the changes in information technology, such as the World Wide Web and PC-based supercomputing, are challenging this METOC support paradigm.

     This change in METOC support is felt at the production centers, the regional centers, and on ships. The Internet has given customers the ability to go directly to the source of the data they need. In the past, the regional center normally played the role of the middleman between fleet customers and production centers. Now, production centers, like FNMOC, make their numerical data accessible via the web, and they must often respond to direct fleet requests via e-mail.

     The regional center's role is also shifting. They were once dependent on production centers for their critical, numerical model forecast products, but systems like DAMPS (Distributed Atmospheric Modeling Prediction System) have changed all this. DAMPS gives a regional center the same capability of running sophisticated mesoscale prediction models (high resolution on the order of 15 - 5 km) that have only recently gone into full operations (in 1998) at the FNMOC supercomputing center. DAMPS runs on an SGI Origin 2000, and will more than likely run on a PC in the near future.

The revolution is not confined to land-based organizations. At sea, a METOC forecaster, armed with a personal computer and a web browser, can now expand beyond the boundaries of the standard Naval METOC community support to find weather information that was once inaccessible. The World Wide Web hosts a vast variety of weather information from commercial sites, universities, and domestic and foreign governmental agencies. The information they must assimilate includes the new mesoscale model products, both from Navy and non-Navy sources, and a multitude of weather observations, such as from buoys and satellite sensors, now made available via the web.

     Thus, the Internet/PC revolution has presented the METOC community with a variety of complex challenges:

• The standard roles of the METOC support infrastructure are changing.
• New METOC science and new data sources require a higher level of sophisticated user.
• The proliferation of IT systems and Tactical Decision Aids complicates the forecast process.
• The abundance of METOC data and information can overload a forecaster's ability to find, select, and assimilate data and information.

     These challenges fall most heavily on the shoulders of the AG forecaster, especially those deployed on ships in foreign waters. Since the AG forecaster is normally the individual who produces the weather forecast for the warfighter, they are the ones who must sift through the myriad of METOC data available via a variety of IT systems. AGs must learn how to incorporate the new mesoscale forecast products. And they must interpret the complex tactical needs of their customers so they can produce a useful product. These AGs work under extreme time constraints, in tight spaces, and often with a lack of sufficient sleep. In addition, their training is stretched to its limits because of the introduction of new science and technology, plus the requirement to forecast for areas in which they may have scant operational experience.

This website developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington.
E-mail comments or questions to Webmaster.