Navy forecasters bring local perspective to Persian Gulf

BAHRAIN—The Navy weather forecasters supporting U.S. flight operations over Iraq have discovered it really helps to have a high-powered, quad-processor computer to tell them quickly which way the wind blows.

Commander John Heishman, commander of the Naval Central Meteorology and Oceanography Activity, housed in a temporary office trailer here at the headquarters compound of the Navy Central Command, said he now can provide more accurate and timely information to Naval forces operating in the Persian Gulf. This is thanks to the installation late last year of an experimental weather forecasting system developed by the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory.

While Navy forces operating worldwide, including those in the Persian Gulf, have access to highly accurate forecasts produced by the supercomputer centers at the Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC), Monterey, Calif., Heishman said the global weather models produced in Monterey do not provide him "with the higher-resolution, finer-scale local models" needed to support his command in the Persian Gulf.

The weather models from Monterey also lack timeliness, since the FNMOC supercomputers can take nine hours to crunch all the data that make up a global weather model. Heishman said the recently installed Tactical Atmospheric Modeling System/Real Time (TAMS/RT) provides him the processing horsepower needed to develop more accurate local weather models "10 to 15 hours ahead" of the global models developed at Monterey.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Todd Gibson, a technician on the Navy weather staff here, said the TAMS/RT uses a high-powered Hewlett-Packard Co. workstation to "ingest" the global forecast from FNMOC supercomputers, then passes that data on to a Silicon Graphics Inc. Origin 2000, quad-processor mini-supercomputer.

The Origin 2000 crunches the global forecast data with local information gathered by area observers, ships, aircraft and automated systems. That system outputs the data to an SGI workstation that enables Gibson to display the data in 3-D, which is much easier to understand than flat, 2-D charts.

Besides providing more accurate and timely information on such things as cloud cover and sea conditions—the TAMS/RT system can spit out accurate, hourly forecasts, Gibson said—the system also provides forecasters with data on wind speed and direction at a variety of altitudes, which is essential for air operations.

While Heishman said the TAMS/RT system provides him with the information needed to make more accurate forecasts than are available from global models, he admitted forecasting still is not an exact science and that even with the help of TAMS/RT he would not want to take on one of the toughest jobs in his field: forecasting whether or not it would snow in Washington, D.C., on a winter day.

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