U.S., Polish weathermen synch forecasting skills

  • Published
  • By Michael Beaton
  • Joint Multinational Training Command
It's been 67 years since Air Force Capt. J.M. Stagg, a military meteorologist, readied himself to deliver his most difficult weather forecast. As he walked down the hall to the London office of the commanding general to present the forecast for the next two days, he steadied his nerve and prepared for the worst.

He would have to tell the general that the operation, planned for the next day, June 5th, would have to be postponed at least a day, perhaps weeks. Under his arm was a folder with a second forecast that said there was a chance that the weather would break on the 6th, but the present forecast made the general's plans extremely risky. As he arrived at the generals' door he prepared himself to deliver a frank "no-go" to the general's plans.

It was June 4, 1944, one day before the planned invasion of Europe known as Project Overlord or D-Day. Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Stagg's advice, decided to hold off the invasion. Eisenhower knew Stagg was no 'yes-man' and respected his ability to predict the weather. Two days later, Stagg's forecast was vindicated. Stagg had forecast better weather for a short time on the 6th, and this was good enough for Eisenhower to send over 500 warships and 3,000 landing craft toward the French beaches at Normandy.

Today at the U.S. Army's Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Air Force weathermen from NATO and partner countries training together use more sophisticated technologies than Stagg, but their mission has remained the same: to assemble the right weather information quickly and accurately so that military planners and leaders can make the right decisions during military operations.

"Weather forecasters depend on technology of course, but common-sense observation is still trump when making a forecast," said JMTC's chief weatherman, Air Force Maj. Richard Earnest. "In short, our job is to make sure the right information gets to the right people at the right time. Weather affects everyone, and when applied to a military mission, it can impact the smallest tactical to the broadest strategic decisions that affect military training and operations."

Earnest is with Detachment 2, 7th Weather Squadron, located at the Grafenwoehr Army Air Field. The detachment provides liaison support to JMTC, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR), 172nd Seperate Infantry Brigade (172 SIB) and C. Company, 5/158 Aviation Regiment( MEDEVAC).

As a secondary role, Detachment 2 hosts exercise Cadre Focus twice a year, a week-long training event at JMTC that prepares U.S. Air Forces in Europe Weather Forecasters and their multinational partners for downrange deployments in support of United States Army, United States Air Force, and joint operations.

According to Earnest, forecasting today relies on two methods. First, the automated procedures for processing digitized observations to give a snapshot of the state of the weather. It is used to create a computer model of the atmosphere that projects the information forward in time to help form the forecast. The second method is the professional judgment of a well-trained Air Force weatherman who is working on site. The two processes are assimilated to produce a balanced, accurate picture of how the weather has evolved. Knitting the procedures together often enough at regular intervals builds up a succession of analyses that a weatherman uses to forecast a weather scenario at a given time in the future.

Setting up and activating the equipment alongside the U.S. Airmen at today's exercise are two Polish officers, Capt. Sebastian Bernatowicz and Capt. Marek Wasilewski, both weather forecasters in the Polish Army Hydro-meteorological Service. Although their uniforms and language are different from the U.S. airmen, there really doesn't seem to be any hesitation or difficulty in working together or calibrating the equipment.

"Of course we work together seriously, even though we come from different services and far apart countries," said Bernatowicz. "We are all professional weathermen, we are thinking as weathermen, and that's something that makes us a very, very much alike. Our job puts us up against the elements of nature. It involves science of course, but predictions based sometimes on intuition and personal experience how patterns of weather develop, too."

As he speaks Bernatowicz and his U.S. Air Force colleagues are setting up the TMQ-53, a tactical meteorological observing system. The system is a 14-foot tall, relatively light-weight deployable instrument with multiple sensors that collects weather data. The TMQ-53, which monitors cloud height and density, humidity, precipitation, temperature, and even such acute atmospheric details such as vertical visibility, surface visibility, present weather, precipitation type and lightning out to 50 nautical miles. When the airmen finish assembling and calibrating the TMQ-53 it will be linked to a computer supported software interface that processes the data. The data is then used to develop a local weather forecast for those who need it, said Earnest.

For 7th Weather Squadron forecasters, the primary mission is to provide mission execution and planning forecasts for all of the Army's missions - both air and ground missions. In this capacity, the forecaster provides pilots with the data they require regarding weather conditions for takeoff, landing and every point in between throughout the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) area of responsibility, said Earnest.

"The Air Force also provides all the weather support for the Army, so Airmen are embedded in all major Army units. We make sure deployed units have constant, up-to-date information at their fingertips to support warfighters," said Earnest.

"Units regularly come to Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels to train, so we forecast everyday for these areas; very up-to-date forecasts that anyone at any level can use, adjusted every hour," said Earnest.

"And if need be, every ten minutes," he added, looking up at the sky.

During the course of the day's set-up and training, the U.S. Airman and their guests from Poland were pelted with intermittent snow, rain, and sleet; experienced bone-chilling winds, frost, and even occasional interludes of brilliant winter sunshine at their JMTC Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) site, located less than a quarter of a mile from the tarmac of the training area's airfield.

In 2011 alone the 7th Weather squadron has trained with over 15 multinational militaries, said Earnest.

"In any coalition situation we would both be making forecasts and carrying them together, so it's important that we are operating the equipment in the same way and compiling our forecasts in a like manner," said Earnest. "By training together we have a mutual confidence when it comes to data quality."

Earnest pointed to the hand-held module that was beginning to spin out information that his Polish colleague was holding. "Most importantly, I know this guy knows his stuff -- we've trained together. There's a familiarity in how we work together and that comes from training together now -- and not in a crisis situation, forward, on the battlefield."

"We'll be there first and we'll be synced to work together and start feeding data to the Soldiers and Airmen who need it - and that is how you win," he added.