Meteorology Marines weather storm in Iraq

3 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Paul Leicht

A few Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, here have the responsibility of forecasting the weather with combat flight operations in mind.

"The primary weather elements that affect any kind of operations in this region are heat and wind," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Kaiser, staff meteorological and oceanography officer, MWSS-472. "Being in a desert environment, the higher summer temperatures impact personnel and equipment maintenance, while the primary impact of the wind is periodically creating dust storms, which can reduce visibility to near-zero and restrict operations."

Starting in the fall, Iraq will start to see fronts go through, similar to fronts in (the United States), but generally less severe and with little rain, added Kaiser, a native of Beaufort, S.C.

"There are times when these fronts will pick up a considerable amount of dust and suspend it in the atmosphere," mentioned Kaiser. "The dust may take days to settle out, resulting in extended periods of reduced visibility. In the late spring and early summer, strong northwesterly winds create dust storms as well, lasting for days or weeks at a time. These winds are called shamals."

Shamals are regional dust storms that typically occur in the winter and spring and can pose a threat to operations, said Gunnery Sgt. Scott M. Stubbs, METOC chief, Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd MAW.

Stubbs said weather conditions, such as fog, dust, wind, haze and specifically temperature, affect the military's ability to do their job in Iraq. 

"Weather is everyone's concern," said Stubbs, a native of Coshocton, Ohio. "We don't often think about it because it is a part of our daily lives, but out here there can be serious implications."

METOC Marines compile weather information, develop forecasts, brief the commanding general several times a day and maintain a webpage to allow units ready access to weather information, warnings and advisories.

"We record and disseminate hourly weather observations and the data is primarily relayed to the air control tower and the flying squadrons' sometimes on the spot, but the data also goes into a climatologic database maintained at Asheville, N.C," said Stubbs. "Our Marines at meteorological mobile facilities throughout the area of operations collect atmospheric data that is utilized by world-wide numerical weather prediction models, as well as give us a valuable vertical profile of the local atmosphere."

Kaiser said in addition to assisting in the development of METOC support responsibilities and coordination of 3rd MAW METOC personnel rotations, he also assists with the shipping and receiving of replacement or repaired equipment for METOC throughout the area of operations.

For Kaiser, METOC has been his military profession for 14 years.

"I have been in the weather METOC field my whole career and became a METOC officer in 2003," said Kaiser. "All METOC officers become weather observers first, with the primary focus of reporting what the weather is 24 hours a day."

NCOs become weather forecasters, where the focus expands to predicting the state of the atmosphere in the future, and the effects of the weather on the units they are supporting, said Stubbs.

Kaiser further added that METOC officers must retain all of the skills of the forecaster, with the additional responsibilities of supervising the personnel, equipment and planning for weather offices on Marine Corps bases, as well as smaller weather units deployed around the world.

"Marine Corps METOC personnel represent almost 45 percent of the weather support in the Operation Iraqi Freedom II area of operations, located at most bases in the region," said Kaiser. "One of the challenges in operating in another country is that there is limited weather information already available. We collect our own information and distribute our personnel in a way that is advantageous to achieving an effective overall weather picture."