MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
“When I tell people that I’m a meteorologist or that I’m a weatherman, I get asked immediately, ‘Are you on the news?’ Then I tell them that I actually work for the Marine Corps... I work behind the scenes,” said Sgt. Nathanial Cunningham, meteorology and oceanography (METOC) analyst forecaster, Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF), Quantico.
METOC forecaster is one of the many jobs Marines perform behind the scenes. Working around the clock, they collect data, study the atmosphere, and forecast the weather; METOC forecasters are crucial to mission success and the overall safety operations of the base.
“When you see thunderstorms moving through, to you it’s just rain, to us - it’s sending upon thousands of emails, calls, and group texts to people and getting the information out as quickly as possible,” said Sgt. Matthew Nguyen, METOC analyst forecaster with MCAF Quantico.
Sgt. Cunningham and Sgt. Nguyen are seasoned METOC forecasters who provide weather updates to Marine Corps Base Quantico personnel. Every hour they record weather data and keep a watchful eye on weather patterns. They are responsible for producing multiple daily forecasts for pilots and aircrews, as well as key leadership.
“At this station we are part of operations in preparing people, to let people know what will be coming towards them. In doing so, it’s going to enhance their safety and how they operate,” stated Nguyen.
Quantico's forecasters work closely with Col. Michael L. Brooks, the commanding officer (CO) of MCB Quantico, to provide weather information that assists in the tactical decision making process, which directly impacts the operations of the base.
“In the Marine Corps planning process, we are generally in the first section of briefs,” said Cunningham. “Talking with the CO, especially when there’s weather coming up, he will want to know the very specifics, down to the hour and minute of when precipitation and storms are predicted to come on station,” he continued.
More recently, forecasters at Quantico have been busy preparing winter weather forecasts, determining amounts of snowfall, how much ice will be on roads, and how it will affect Marines coming to and from the base.
“This new operation with working with the base CO… really brings purpose to us. When it’s snowing, we have to keep, [Col. Brooks] prepared on what the weather is going to be. You know, power lines, snow and ice, people walking- preventing every single issue before it happens,” said Nguyen.
Each air station in the Marine Corps has a METOC office which falls under the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of the Marine Corps. The ACE operates as the aviation portion of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) which includes all aircraft (both fixed wing and helicopters), their pilots and maintenance personnel, and those units necessary for aviation command and control.
“We work closely with HMX [Marine Helicopter Squadron One], that’s our main mission- their safety, helicopters, how they fly and how they operate within the weather,” stated Nguyen.
Every Marine Corps air station uses the Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) that collects weather data. The ASOS transmits meteorological observations every hour and logs the current observations of the station online. Forecasters use this data to provide flight plans and reports to pilots outlining what they can expect throughout the duration of their flights. Forecasters use the Automatic Heat Stress System (AHSS) to determine wet bulb globe temperatures and define the flag conditions for the base. The AHSS is an important tool that assists leadership in determining the duration and types of physical training Marines can perform during given temperatures.
METOC forecasters go through a rigorous 9 to 12 months of training at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Studies include atmospheric physics, atmospheric dynamics, collection of data and weather observations, weather forecasting and job performance at the fleet.
“We don’t just look at the national weather service, we don’t just pull out our phones and see what’s on the weather app. It does take a lot of work and a lot of know-how, to perform our jobs effectively,” said Cunningham.
Behind the scenes Marines in the METOC office report for duty rain or shine, remaining open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing meteorological support to pilots, aircrews, training units, and commanders across the base. These Marines continue to play a vital role in the safety and operations of MCB Quantico and the Marine Corps.
“Weather can make or break an operation,” stated Cunningham.