Weather Forecasters Balance Experience with Technology

Weather Forecasters

When people talk about a meteorologist cooking up a weather forecast, they may be more right than they realize, said one of the forecasters NASA counts on to predict conditions ahead of a launch."I compare forecasting a lot to cooking, to be honest," said Joel Tumbiolo, a meteorologist with the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron, the unit that handles forecasting for rockets launched at the Eastern Range on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. "In cooking, you have recipes that you follow, but to be a good cook you have to have a certain taste and feel for it, and I feel there's a lot of that in weather forecasting."

The weather team monitors conditions from the ground level to a few thousand feet in the air, a region the rocket will fly through in a minute or two at most. But even a low-hanging cloud can be enough to call off a launch. "If those couple minutes don't go right, bad things happen," Tumbiolo said. "You always wonder, 'How can a rocket going at that velocity be affected by a cloud?' But we've learned through trial and error that it does affect it."

The launch teams quickly learn the impact of weather on a countdown, said Omar Baez, launch director for NASA's Launch Services Program, or LSP."Weather is one of those things you never think about coming into the rocket business and you quickly learn how it affects our business," Baez said. "And it's not just during the launch phase."

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