MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Some might think that tracking the weather in the Yuma area is an easy job. After all, it’s usually hot and sunny, but there is more that must be taken into account when the accuracy of a weather report affects the safety of Marines, both on the ground and flying overhead.
Station Meteorological Oceanographic Command Marines must do just that.
Station Meteorological Oceanographic Command Marines have a job that consists mainly of two parts: forecasting the weather and informing people of the weather and risks involved.
The majority of Marines are affected by the flag conditions for physical training; the flag that dictates how long and under what conditions Marines can PT safely.
The flag system operates off of a four-level system designed to make sure troops do not fall victim to heat-related injuries such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
The lowest flag condition is green, which indicates that heavy physical exercise can be conducted with caution. This means PT is mostly unrestricted, unless someone starts to show signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. The next level is yellow, which suspends strenuous activities for un-acclimated troops, or troops who have spent less than two or three weeks in the climate. A red flag is the next level, which completely halts physical training for unacclimated troops and limits PT for acclimated individuals to six hours a day. The highest level, -- black flag -- prohibits all strenuous physical activity.
Temperatures are checked at the top of every hour in order to calculate flag conditions, which rely on more than just the ambient air temperature.
Three different numbers go into the flag conditions, taking into account the humidity, ambient air temperature and the temperature of an object that absorbs the maximum heat possible from the sun. This is why the temperature can reach over 100 degrees and the station still won’t be under black flag conditions, said Sgt. Christopher Holt, weather forecaster and native of Virginia Beach, Va.
The forecasters and observers at the weather station also track clouds and winds that affect pilots taking off from the station, and brief every group before take off. They also track ocean currents and tides that affect amphibious landings.
The information for flights that stay in the area is pulled from a report weather services puts on the station Commander’s Access Channel, which is kept up to date and accurate, said Capt. Chris L. Nicholson, an AV-8B Harrier pilot from Conyers, Ga.
The pilots also need detailed information about their route and destination when performing longer flights to another location, such as Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., or Iraq.
The forecasting for Yuma is different than forecasting for other areas because of the topography, specifically what the Marines at weather services call the “Yuma bubble,” which is created by the mountains to the north, east and west, said Christopher.
This can keep weather from coming in from any direction other than the south or keep it from leaving as well, creating high-speed winds that are difficult to predict, said Christopher.
With the forces of nature under their watchful eye, Station Meteorological Oceanographic Command Marines ensure the Marines of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma are ready for whatever the weather may bring.