USS George H.W. Bush Forecasters Critical to Smooth Operations
Strategically placed in the aft-most section of the super structure is a vital aspect of USS George H.W. Bush’s (CVN 77) mission, namely the Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) workcenter.
Without this mission-essential workcenter, pilots would lose efficiency and be at a higher risk of danger, which puts the entire ship at higher risk.
“Everyone knows that we deal with weather,” said Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Chad McLaren, METOC Leading Petty Officer (LPO). “What a lot of people don’t realize is that we deal with anything atmospheric or oceanographic. We even do a little bit of space weather and anything environmental. We put out the five-day forecast, do products for undersea warfare and a little bit of atmospheric refraction dealing with radar ranges. It’s a pretty wide-reaching rate.”
McLaren’s main responsibility is to make sure the division runs how it is supposed to, regarding forecast products and range predictions.
McLaren explained that early in an AG’s (Aerographer’s) Navy career, “C” school is mandatory following their first command. That is where they learn to forecast the weather. At their next command they will be known as a “forecaster,” being primarily responsible for forecasting weather. Forecasters aboard USS George H.W. Bush predict the weather for all the ships in the strike group.
Personnel that have not yet attended “C” school are known as assistant forecasters, or observers. Their job is to observe the current conditions, record them in a weather observation log and assist the forecasters in anything else they need.
Every 30 minutes, an assistant forecaster takes a reading with a Kestrel, a handheld instrument that measures the air temperature and the dew point. McLaren explained how the Sailor will look all around the ship checking the sea state, what the visibility is like, how high the clouds are and how much of the sky is covered by clouds.
“Cloud height can affect air operations quite a bit,” said McLaren. “We get pilot reports, but for the most part, the sea state and cloud coverage is judged by eye. It’s an experience thing. After you’ve done it for a while you can tell based on how the clouds are moving, how fast they are moving and how much you can see them changing. You get pretty good at judging heights accurately.”
METOC meets daily requirements such as forecasting weather for all ships in the strike group. However, safety trumps everything.
“The primary objective of METOC is safety,” said McLaren. “Specifically, safety of navigation, personnel and flight operations. However we can support the warfighter, that’s what we’re going to do. We have the capability of knowing how a specific radar is going to perform in the atmosphere for a certain day or we can determine what the survivability is if there’s a man overboard.”
McLaren said that as far as the mission goes, the secondary goal is to exploit the environment to the best of their ability. They make sure that they know more about the environment than the enemy does, and use that to the ship’s advantage.
“We take our observations from the 09 level between 24 and 48 times per day,” said Aerographer’s Mate Airman Taylor Kane, assistant forecaster. “It’s necessary and very beneficial to the pilots to know what is going on at all times throughout their operations.”
Every day, METOC provides vital information to people that truly need it and appreciate it.
“My favorite part about this job is being involved in just about everything that’s going on,” said McLaren. “We play a part in almost every operation that goes on underway. Whether it’s flight operations, replenishment-at-sea or search and rescue. We have to be integrated into what everyone else is doing. It’s fun, especially when you can give that essential information to people that truly require it. When you’re getting good feedback and you know that you’ve actually contributed to the success of the mission; those are the good days.”
Press Release, May 9, 2014; Image: US Navy