Sailor predicts weather, ensures operational safety
Senior Airman Dylan Murakami
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – While most people know what to expect with weather in Djibouti, it takes an expert to predict when it will vary. These variations from typical weather patterns are what have the largest impact, so it is imperative to know when they are coming and what to expect. Prior to the execution of any given mission, it is important that Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) key personnel understand and assess the potential weather-induced risks involved.
The CJTF-HOA Meteorological and Oceanographic Center (METOC) is responsible for forecasting and briefing decision-makers on current and future weather patterns throughout East Africa.
“METOC analyzes meteorological data from the entire area of responsibility (AOR),” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Timothy Schul, joint METOC officer and joint operations center director, CJTF-HOA. “We then inform senior staff of weather conditions that might impact upcoming or ongoing missions. It’s important to determine whether a mission can be safely and successfully executed given the conditions at hand and forecasted.”
Much of that workload falls to U.S. Navy Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Shyatesa Hall, meteorological and oceanographic operations forecaster, CJTF-HOA, who is the sole forecaster for the entire Horn of Africa.
“It is exceptionally challenging to be the only CJTF-HOA forecaster due to the vast AOR,” Hall said. “Things such as the numerous data-sparse regions and the fact that I cannot provide 24/7 coverage make it difficult. It quickly teaches the importance of collaborating with forecasters from other units and using alternative research methods to obtain data.”
The primary piece of equipment the METOC uses to predict the weather locally is the Tactical Meteorological Observing System (TMQ-53). The system collects information about the current weather conditions, like temperature, wind speed, wind direction, and precipitation values, and feeds that information directly to the METOC. For non-local forecasts, there are weather sensors at the various outstations within the AOR that transmit weather data to the METOC via a secure network. It is then up to Hall to take that information and make predictions on changes in weather patterns and brief mission planners on those changes.
“AG1 Hall produces charts that outline the weather and its impacts to various locations throughout the AOR,” Schul said. “These areas host ground missions; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; and air missions. She is amazing; she does all the work. I’ll get involved when we have special requests, but the day-to-day work is all her.”
Despite advanced technology and consulting alternative sources, it is still impossible to accurately forecast future weather conditions 100 percent of the time. Hall is responsible for just getting as accurate a forecast as possible, so that leadership can make informed decisions.
“It’s exciting to interact with the decision-makers, but the potential to be wrong is worrisome,” Hall said. “Meteorology isn’t an exact science, so my challenge is to provide the most likely atmospheric conditions at a given time, and my forecast can sometimes not come to fruition. It can be both a frustrating and rewarding experience.”