U.S. Navy Weather and Ocean Prediction: A Conversation with Rear Admiral John Okon

Reposted from the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

The U.S. Navy plays a huge role in global environmental monitoring and prediction, ranging from taking observations in the world’s oceans and monitoring Arctic sea ice, to running highly sophisticated numerical models of the atmosphere and ocean.  If anything ever happened to the National Weather Service’s weather prediction models, the U.S. Navy stands ready as an immediate backup.

The crucial role of Navy meteorology and oceanography was a reason I jumped at the offer of interviewing Navy Rear Admiral John Okon, who holds the role of Oceanographer of the Navy, putting him in charge of the vast Navy environmental enterprise.    Admiral Okon was going to come to Seattle for Seafair/Fleet Week, but COVID-19 cancelled those plans.
But even with Seafair cancelled,  Admiral Okon still wanted to reach out to Northwest residents and so he agreed to this interview, in which we discussed a number of weather and ocean issues over roughly twenty minutes.  Please check out the video below if you would like to learn about the U.S. Navy’s role in environmental prediction and even the potential jobs in working on these tasks. 

Just a little background about Admiral Okon.  He received a B.S. in meteorology and oceanography from the N.Y Maritime College, followed by a master’s degree in meteorology and physical meteorology from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, with his adviser being Dr. Wendell Nuss, a graduate of the UW.  So he has a strong UW Husky connection.
Later he served as meteorologist and oceanographer aboard two aircraft carriers, followed by a series of increasingly responsible command posts including running the Navy’s modeling center in Monterey, followed by taking on the key post of Navy oceanographer.
My conversation with him ranged from high-tech ocean observing systems (e.g., like the seagliders that can stay underwater for months) to the challenges of cybersecurity of weather modeling systems.

More information on U.S. Navy meteorology and oceanography can be found here.

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August 5, 2020 8:35 am

Could you please post a transcript?

commieBob
August 5, 2020 8:50 am

Why does the Navy care so much about the weather? The best example I can quickly think of is the D-Day invasion of WW2. link By having better weather information, the allies caught the Germans with their pants down. It didn’t change the outcome of the war but it probably reduced its length.

Reply to  commieBob
August 5, 2020 12:02 pm

D day
The bombers had bad weather
And they could not see their targets
From the air,
So Germans were at nearly
Full srength when the US army
Came ashore, resulting
In far too many US deaths
On Omaha Beach.

The cold weather in Russia
Was more than the
German’s could tolerate.

Peter Fraser
Reply to  Richard Greene
August 5, 2020 4:56 pm

“The cold weather in Russia was more than the German’s could tolerate” When Germany invaded Russia nine tenths of total German forces were involved on the Eastern Front and never less than seven tenths until Germany’s surrender (The Third Reich, William L. Shirer)

Herbert
Reply to  Peter Fraser
August 5, 2020 10:27 pm

Peter,
Yes. It is a sobering thought that in June 1941 some 3.5 million German and Axis troops invaded Russia.
At wars end the Germans suffered ~ 5 million dead, most of them on the Eastern Front.
The Red Army chewed up entire German divisions progressively at the loss of many more millions of Russian troops.
That ‘global cooling’ at Moscow in December 1941 was the worst in a long time and helped the Russians enormously.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  commieBob
August 5, 2020 2:03 pm

>>
Why does the Navy care so much about the weather?
<<

As a retired Navy pilot, I can tell you that flying requires knowledge of the weather conditions. You probably don’t want to take off if the field is below minimums (you can’t if you have a standard instrument rating). It would be nice to know the en-route forecast weather–in case there’s icing or a WW. And you need to know the forecast weather at your destination–it determines whether or not you need an alternate. Also, the forecast weather at your alternate determines its suitability. Indeed, aviation is a primary reason for weather forecasting. That’s why most weather stations are located at airports.

Jim

Speed
Reply to  commieBob
August 5, 2020 3:32 pm

The Weather Forecast That Saved D-Day

“The weather during the initial hours of D-Day was still not ideal. Thick clouds resulted in Allied bombs and paratroopers landing miles off target. Rough seas caused landing craft to capsize and mortar shells to land off the mark. By noon, however, the weather had cleared and Stagg’s forecast had been validated. The Germans had been caught by surprise, and the tide of World War II began to turn.”

https://www.history.com/news/the-weather-forecast-that-saved-d-day

The whole story is interesting including why and how the Allies had better forecasts than the Germans.

Reply to  Speed
August 5, 2020 5:21 pm

Add in the German weather stations on Greenland.

Roger Knights
Reply to  Speed
August 5, 2020 5:39 pm

“Thick clouds resulted in Allied bombs and paratroopers landing miles off target. ”

I read that the misplaced paratroop landings confused and misdirected the Germans so much that their effect was almost as good for the allies as if they’d been dropped properly.

Editor
Reply to  Speed
August 5, 2020 5:41 pm

D-Day was extremely important, but it really wasn’t the turning point.
https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-stalingrad

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Mike Jonas
August 5, 2020 7:52 pm

And the largest tank in history, the battle of Kursk-Orel when the Russians defeated the German 1943 summer offensive. They were never able to mount an offensive on the Eastern Front again, it was all retreat to Berlin.

John Tillman
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 6, 2020 11:53 am

H!tler called off the Kursk offensive when the US and UK invaded Sicily.

Richard Patton
Reply to  Speed
August 5, 2020 9:44 pm

@Speed I thank God I was never in that position when I was a weather forecaster in the Navy

Reply to  commieBob
August 5, 2020 7:44 pm

And who was it … Nimitz? … who took his task force into a hurricane and nearly destroyed it?

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Jim B
August 5, 2020 8:32 pm

Hasley. Third Fleet. December 44.

He made an “error of judgement” but was not actually found guilty as such. He wasn’t however still in command of Third Fleet after January, so make of that what you will.

John Tillman
Reply to  Jim B
August 6, 2020 12:01 pm

Twice.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  commieBob
August 5, 2020 8:24 pm

cB asks:

“Why does the Navy care so much about the weather?”

Why wouldn’t they? Can I conduct operations in this area or will sea ice restrict surface movement? Is that storm front going to shut down air operations? Sonar performance is related to water termp and fresh water/salt water – will fresh water from glaciers mess with or improve my sonar and ASW? Will massive continued floods breech Three Gorges, will they damage industry, agriculture or both and will this cause China to turn inwards or outwards as a result? If next winter is unseasonally cold will I need to start procuring extra cold weather clothing now or will the existing supply chain handle it?

“It didn’t change the outcome of the war but it probably reduced its length.”

Nit picking, but the length is part of the outcome. You have simplified the problem into Germany Win/Germany Loses. Not that simple. You get into questions of things like Germany being defeated by Stalin but having the Soviets then cut the Allies out of the post war process and refuse to allow West occupation forces in Germany.

You also get into questions about how the Second Front forced resources into France. If the West had not invaded Germany may have decided to just keep static forces in France and strip the mobile reserves (aka the Panzers) from anti invasion duties to go and monster the Russians. Remember that the Russian manpower pool was not bottomless and Stalin may not have had the resources to continue the war into 46 if the fighting in 44 – 45 had ended up more costly for him.

Big question. WUWT probably not the forum for it to be honest.

John Tillman
Reply to  commieBob
August 6, 2020 12:00 pm

CACA skeptic, late great Father of Climatology Reid Bryson, was a USAAF meteorologist in 1944-45. He twice warned Admiral Halsey of typhoons, but both times his alerts went unheeded, with great loss in lives, ships and aircraft.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Cobra

Only Halsey’s service early in the war and its prompt end kept him from finally being fired, as he should have been after his terrible decisions caused the loss of many sailors and airmen, ships and planes in the Samar portion of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Thank God that his severe eczema kept him from command at Midway.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_off_Samar

J Mac
August 5, 2020 9:03 am

A good overview of USN Oceanography and Meteorology today….

Greg
Reply to  J Mac
August 5, 2020 10:08 am

He received a B.S. in meteorology

Isn’t that the same qualification M.E. Mann claims? Along with this B.S. Nobel prize.

Duker
Reply to  Greg
August 5, 2020 11:53 pm

Nope. Mann undergraduate major was solid state physics, however when he started his doctoral work he realised the standard of those working in that area was so much higher than his ability so he switched to another field…make of that what you will.

IAMPCBOB
August 5, 2020 9:44 am

When I was in the Navy, we launched weather balloons VERY frequently. We included a radar target with the balloon so we could check how far out and up our Radar could track it, so it served multiple purposes. I think many ships did the same, so there was and IS a lot of weather information gathered. From all over the world, in fact!

John in Oz
Reply to  IAMPCBOB
August 5, 2020 4:47 pm

We did the same, I being a gunnery and missile computer technician in the Australian navy.

We also dropped bathythermographs for the sonar people to determine temperature layers so there would be a lot of that info stored in a warehouse somewhere

Richard Patton
Reply to  John in Oz
August 5, 2020 9:53 pm

It was when I had to run the sonar profiles based on the BTs that I realized how scary the subs truly were, and I was glad that there was always one or two of our attack subs ‘escorting’ our battle group. We had one of them pop up its periscope between my ship (USS Midway-CV41) and the destroyer behind us doing plane guard. The only person who noticed him was the weather observer. None of the ship’s lookouts and none of the sonar jockeys on our escorts detected it.

Speed
Reply to  IAMPCBOB
August 5, 2020 5:12 pm

Good historical piece on weather ships …

Function of the Weather Ships
https://www.weatherships.com/docs-articles

Carl Friis-Hansen
August 5, 2020 9:53 am

Battle space on demand

An interesting concept. Put in another way, the navy depend on the precision of the weather forecast.
Similarly to this, throughout the years, I found that the civil aviation’s weather forecast was more accurate than the national weather forecast. I assume this is for the same reason, the aviation is in dire need of accurate weather forecast.

A G Foster
August 5, 2020 10:38 am

Whenever possible flotillas take advantage of cloud cover to escape satellite detection. Usually games and practice of course. –AGF

August 5, 2020 11:56 am

Weather – Looking up when you guys should be looking down.

Knowing the ocean thermocline profiles in all the Navy AOR’s is vitally important forall aspects of undersea warfare. The Thermocline structure guides sonar operators, sonar operations and sonabouy deployments, and those who hunt enemy subs, and vital to the operation of the US SOSUS network throughout the world’s oceans.

https://www.public.navy.mil/subfor/underseawarfaremagazine/Issues/Archives/issue_25/sosus.htm

Coeur de Lion
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 6, 2020 12:44 am

Yes,Joel, agree entirely. As an anti submarine expert myself, I can recall enormous and ongoing day by day interest in the position of the main seasonal thermocline in the Atlantic and North Norwegian Sea when using the deep sound channel to track the other side’s attack and ballistic nukes. Diesel electric oh dear not so much. Cold War

August 5, 2020 12:03 pm

Who came up with
The title
Rear Admiral?

Oldseadog
Reply to  Richard Greene
August 5, 2020 12:08 pm

It isn’t a title, it is a rank.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  Oldseadog
August 5, 2020 12:24 pm

Actually, it’s a grade. And there are two grades of Rear Admiral: lower half and upper half.

Jim

Oldseadog
Reply to  Jim Masterson
August 5, 2020 2:12 pm

I stand corrected if that is how the US Navy works. In the RN there are only ranks, not titles.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  Oldseadog
August 5, 2020 2:33 pm

Yes. Officers have grades, and enlisted have ranks and ratings. And you address all grades of admirals as “Admiral.” Even though, only a four star is technically an Admiral.

Jim

Reply to  Jim Masterson
August 5, 2020 7:51 pm

I never had a problem in addressing an Admiral when I was a swabbie. Never got close enough to one. Way back when I was a Seaman Apprentice (don’t think they even have that rank anymore).

Richard Patton
Reply to  JimB
August 5, 2020 9:57 pm

I had to brief admirals many times as a PO1. I got a lot more respect from the admirals than the junior enlisted officers. My job was to brief on the current weather and forecast for the Middle East, and you could count on some junior officer wanting to stump me by asking what the weather was in Podunk Mo, or some other off the wall place in the world.

John Tillman
Reply to  Jim Masterson
August 6, 2020 12:07 pm

Army, Marines and Air Force group officer ranks into grades, ie company-grade (2LT, 1LT, CPT), field-grade (MJR, LTC, COL) and flag-grade or general officer (BG, MG, LG and GEN). NATO codes O-1 to O-10.

Oldseadog
August 5, 2020 12:06 pm

OT.
Mr. Rotter, I would be most obliged if you would contact me by email about something totally different.
Thanks.

Brett Keane
August 5, 2020 2:14 pm

RG, Luckily the Britsh and Canadian Armies made it, so the Jerries would be cut off anyway.
The weather was only clear for a few hours, which we knew from our Icelandic and North Atlantic Stations. Which Germany lacked.
Our Arctic and Persian Convoys made a big difference in Russia, no thanks from them of course…… Brett Keane, NZ

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