MONTEREY, Calif.--Throughout the world, the U.S. Navy patrols the seas, and requires the best weather forecasting it can get to keep its vessels and its personnel -- not to mention its missions -- safe.
In this coastal town, about two hours south of San Francisco, the Navy operates the Fleet Numerical Meteorology & Oceanography Center, a facility filled with supercomputers and a highly skilled team that, together, help to provide the service and other government agencies with the best-possible weather forecasting.
CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped in on the facility yesterday as part of his Road Trip 2012 project. Among the many missions Fleet Numerical, as it's known, undertakes what is the global Submarine Weather support system (SUBWEAX), which since 2008 has been instrumental in offering submarines the latest forecasts on weather at the surface.
One thing submarines would be very interested in is the height of waves at the surface. This chart, which is publicly available through Fleet Numerical's Web site, shows a forecast for global wave heights. Decision makers all around the world can use that data to help their missions become as efficient as possible.
In Fleet Numerical's watch center, two computer systems watch officers are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, handling all incoming satellite data, taking care of operational data runs, monitoring computers runs, and ensuring that more than 60,000 weather-related jobs per day are processed without problems that could endanger lives or missions.
Fleet Numerical's commanding officer is Capt. Erika Sauer, seen here standing in front of some of the racks that make up the facility's unclassified supercomputing system. Fleet Numerical has unclassified, secret, and top secret missions, each category of which has its own dedicated supercomputers.
This chart, provided by Fleet Numerical, shows the relative improvements in its weather forecasting abilities over the years. The data shows that, for example, its level of accuracy today for a five-day forecast is as good as it was in 1988 for a three-day forecast.
Located in a hallway at Fleet Numerical's facilities is a series of signed photographs that reflect the gratitude a number of submarine and ship commanders have for the work done at the center. This one, from the commanding officer of the submarine USS Hampton, says "Thank you for your team's efforts & hard work! You ensure my safety and enhance my tactical advantage!"
This photograph, from the commanding officer of the USS Albuquerque, also reflects the gratitude of people aboard operational U.S. Navy submarines for the work done at Fleet Numerical. It says, "To the FNMOC Team: Thank you for your outstanding METOC support. We couldn't do what we do without SUBWEAX!"
One example of how information from Fleet Numerical is used in real-life operational situations is this chart showing its impact on anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. There, pirates have been regularly attacking vessels, but by forecasting the kinds of conditions -- involving wave height, winds, weather, and so forth -- favored by the pirates, Fleet Numerical is able to give the American military advance information that allows them to be in the area before the pirates, and potentially intercede before anyone is attacked or harmed.
Another example of how Fleet Numerical's information is used is this chart, which shows how its data was able to help the fleet working in the Gulf of Mexico after 2010's catastrophic Deepwater Horizon accident. By being able to predict winds and wave heights 72 hours into the future, Fleet Numerical gave operators valuable information that could help them predict where recovery work would best be done.
Although Fleet Numerical is a Navy facility, it works in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force on some areas of operations. That means the Air Force maintains personnel at the facility, and seen here, Navy and Air Force personnel consult during a normal work shift.
This chart shows the kinds of supercomputing equipment and power utilized at Fleet Numerical. The green area represents the working unclassified supercomputer system, while red and purple represent secret and top secret supercomputers.