CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Eleventh Marine Expeditionary Unit's weather observer doesn't have to look at the sky or calculate temperature and wind speed to make a weather observation - he pushes a button.
The MEU's Meteorological Support Team, comprised of a staff sergeant and corporal, recently welcomed a new addition, the Capricorn 2000 weather station. It can display information, perform complex computations, and store relatively large amounts of weather data on a touch-screen display, saving time and manpower for the 11th MEU weather team.
The new weather station continually gathers information from a sensor-laden, aluminum tripod and the data is transmitted to an LCD screen similar to a laptop. The system measures and displays wind chill, dew point, heat index, rain rate, and barometric pressure. It also measures rain for the day, the week, the month and the year; and one-minute wind speed average and wind speed gust.
Normally, a weather observer would make a weather observation every hour, and manually make his calculations. The observer looks at the sky and determines cloud elevation and uses three thermometers to measure wet bulb index temperature, air temperature and humidity. These hourly observations are then used to forecast weather conditions, but with the addition of the new weather station, an accurate weather forecast and observation is available on a continuous basis.
"A good observer can get a complete weather observation in about 15 minutes," Cpl. Aaron States, weather observer, Command Element, 11th MEU, said. "This new gear updates information all the time."
Recent and accurate weather reports play a key role in mission planning, according to States. The weather directly affects individual Marines, vehicles, aircraft, and weapon systems. The Meteorological Support Team is responsible for briefing these conditions to mission commanders.
"Weather observations are more than sunny skies and cloud cover," States said. "There is much more as far as the MEU is concerned. For example, the amount of ground moisture in an area is important (because its affect on) vehicle movement. Every time the MEU conducts an operation, we prepare briefs and continuously update them."
The new system is also compatible with the teams existing software allowing for immediate access to current weather conditions. Besides its capacity for briefs, the weather system can be used at helicopter forward arming and refueling points, according to States.
During long-range flights, pilots are instructed to land at prepositioned refueling stations. The meteorological support team along with the weather station will be deployed to these sites, because pilots rely on current weather conditions for take-offs and landings due to the effect wind, temperature, and pressure have on aircraft.
The system is capable of operating in extreme temperature and wind conditions making it ideal for use in the regions where the MEU will be deployed. Throughout 11th MEU's upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions, the meteorological support team will test the systems applications and incorporate them into the section's operating procedures.
The new system offers a variety of advantages to the two-man weather team, according to States, but can't duplicate the work of a "well-calibrated brain".
"I can get a lot of information from looking at the sky and the local surroundings that the sensors can't," States said. "Many people have a good general knowledge of weather, but that's only the thunder, the real power is in the lightning. There are so many variables involved, and the weather affects so much more than what people realize. Our job is important and at times it can become really difficult."