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.

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

  1. 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.

    • 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.

      • “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)

        • 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.

    • >>
      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

    • 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.

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

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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

    • He received a B.S. in meteorology

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

      • 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.

  2. 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!

    • 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

      • 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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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

    • 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

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

          • 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

        • 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).

          • 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.

        • 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.

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

  7. 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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