Face of Defense: Aerographer’s Duties Go Beyond Predicting Weather

Feb. 29, 2016 | BY Navy Seaman Jeanette Mullinax , DOD News

Behind closed doors, hidden from plain view, sailors are performing important roles that may go unnoticed by many.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Mulholland is an aerographer’s mate aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.

“We don’t only do weather. That’s a large misconception,” he said

The fields covered by the aerographer rating span far beyond just five-day forecasts of the weather.

Aerographer’s mates are meteorological and oceanographic experts. They provide the necessary data that help the ship's captain make important decisions on movements and tactics.

And, Mullholland said, the job is different depending on where a sailor is assigned. His experience has run the gamut from studying ice growth and decay in the northern and southern hemispheres to using bioluminescence to hunt down submarines.

On the Bonhomme Richard, Mulholland’s forecasts deal more with waves and winds. Information gathered from sea and air helps the ship’s meteorological and oceanographic, or METOC, team determine allowances for flight deck, landing craft and small boat operations.

Multiple Wind Effects

“The flight deck can only use a certain wind envelope, so we have to tell them which direction the wind’s going to be, so that we can point the ship in the correct direction to have planes actually take off and land,” Mulholland said.

The METOC team provides the information small boat and landing craft units need to know about the area’s sea conditions and wave height, he said.

“They need to know which direction the seas are coming from,” Mulholland said. “For them, a lot of the issue comes from swells, which are the big rollers that rock the ship back and forth. If they’re trying to fly on the water and they hit a swell, then they’ll just sort of launch off, and then when they come down, they may pop the cushion.”

This is why certain operations will sometimes get canceled in rough seas, he said.

Compared to land forecasters, shipboard aerographers more often encounter unstable factors, Mulholland added. “The ocean has more to do with what happens with the weather than people expect, so it’s significantly harder to forecast for what’s going on over water than to forecast what’s going on over land,” he said.

Despite knowing that it can be a thankless rate, he said he remains completely gratified with his role.

“I enjoy the science behind my work,” Mulholland said. “I enjoy being able to look at a screen and having a rough idea of how a battle will turn out before it even starts.”