Carmody supports meteorology ops in Antarctica — and behind enemy lines
Posted December 5, 2008
How does weather forecasting in Iraq prepare a person for work in the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) ?
Mike Carmody, meteorology coordinator for Raytheon Polar Services , the primary contractor for the National Science Foundation’s USAP, would say the two mission objectives are very similar. “The only difference between a remote outpost in Iraq and a field camp in Antarctica is temperature.” Well, that and maybe a few improvised explosive devices.
Carmody has 26 years with the Army and Air Force and is still active in the Reserve, necessitating weeks and months away from his civilian desk to meet his military obligation. He wears his military hat with the 720th Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field, Fla., where he performs operational meteorology with a Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT).
When on duty, he deploys with Green Berets A-Team, Army Rangers, or another joint unit, into “denied areas” (enemy controlled areas) to assess environmental conditions. This may mean completing a high-altitude parachute jump into an Afghani mountainous region or diving into waters patrolled by pirate ships off the coast of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
“I’ll assess the meteorological, hydrological systems and geological conditions,” he explained. “For example, I’ll determine how fast a river is moving, what level the water is, and whether or not it is going to rain up river. If it is going to rain, it will change the river flow and level.
“This information is needed if troops are going to be crossing or using the river in the next 48 hours. Or I’ll look at a goat path over a mountain pass and determine if heavy military vehicles can safely pass over that road without collapsing. The teams forward always have a SOWT assigned to them to provide assessments of weather, ground and hydrological conditions.”
Carmody has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout Africa.
The skills needed to quickly assess weather conditions with limited equipment is exactly what the USAP needs at remote field camps to provide weather forecasting for aircraft and recording science data.
The USAP provides meteorological reports for remote areas such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide and Siple Dome — anywhere a ski-equipped LC-130 or Twin Otter has to land and needs weather support.
Each camp has one or two trained MetTechs, meteorological technicians, and each one ends up having to wear two or three hats.
“In the military, my guys have to collect all the environmental data, but they also may have to be a radio operator, set demolitions or clear buildings,” Carmody said. “You try to have a small footprint by having one guy and cross train several jobs. At WAIS Divide , the MetTech has to take all the weather data, but also may have to shovel snow, be a fuelie and help cook a meal. Again, it is a small team.”
Carmody conducts training in the Denver area prior to heading south. Participants learn to become weather observers who record and disseminate information. He has to cram what normally would be several weeks of training into a few short days.
“By far the most difficult aspect of the training is teaching the participants to determine cloud ceiling levels,” he said. “Are those clouds at 3,000 feet or 700 feet? It makes a huge difference to the pilot … that is one of the main things we work on during the training.”
Mike’s remote-field MetTechs provide baseline information for aviation forecasts and as data for scientists. “I have three customers. First are all the science teams who may need weather data for their research.”
For example, if a science team needs to know what the average temperature, wind direction and speed or physiological altitude at WAIS Divide is during the month of December, Carmody’s department can provide that information.
Principal Investigator Matthew Lazzara and his team out of the University of Wisconsin also need the data. Lazzara’s group oversees the automatic weather stations project and the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center , which archives and provides Antarctic meteorological data for the USAP.
“Thirdly, we have the [New York] Air National Guard flying the LC-130s as our customers,” Carmody explained. “They need weather observers at remote landing sites to provide accurate aviation support and data back to [Navy-contracted] forecasters to develop products.”
Carmody’s McMurdo Station office is in Building 165 amidst the offices of various military personnel including the Space and Naval Warfare Systems (SPAWAR) Command , which manages air traffic control and weather forecasting operations for the USAP. His role on the Ice is to be in direct contact with the Air Guard to ensure his remote field MetTechs are providing accurate weather data for the pilots.
“We need a robust communications plan between [South] Pole, the field camps and SPAWAR,” Carmody explained. “The weather observation is the base of the pyramid. If you have a bad observation, you get a bad forecast. If a cloud ceiling is dropping, the weather forecaster needs to know that so he can update his forecast. The communication needs to flow consistently.”
It isn’t nearly as dangerous as providing weather observations in the mountains of Afghanistan, but the technical aspects to the job are the same: provide the best data possible with the smallest footprint.