Dave is a Senior Operational Meteorologist with the Mobile Met Unit (MMU) deployed on Operation TORAL, the British element of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
The MMU is a Sponsored Reserve unit of the Royal Air Force (RAF) comprised of Met Office meteorologists and engineers. Dave tells us about life on deployment and what the MMU means to him.
My role on Operation Toral is to provide meteorological support to the rotary aviation detachment in Kabul. As such, my day is dictated chiefly by the flying programme, working as part of operations to maximize efficiency whilst preserving flight safety.
On a standard day, I will be in the office 3 hours before take-off, which can provide some rather early starts, before briefing the aircrew on the day ahead. Once the aircrew are airborne, my focus shifts to the next day to advise shaping of the programme where possible to avoid any likely delays owing to weather.
By the nature of operations, events are subject to change, so I remain in the office to advise of upcoming weather impacts through the medium term or update the brief if short notice changes of task occur. During flying, I keep an eye on the current weather to ensure any developments or change of forecast are made known to the operations room, engineers and aircrew.
As Operation Toral is a well-founded detachment, conditions are not too dissimilar from working in an office in the UK, except for the sidearm on my hip and tourniquet in my pocket! However, everyone from the Senior Aircraftman on their first tour to the squadron boss never forgets our task or the ever-present threat in country, as it is our role to minimize road moves around theatre to keep our people safe and to support the ongoing NATO training mission.
Creating the forecast
Formulating the forecast is similar to the process you’d go through anywhere. It starts with assessing a mixture of observations, including a weather balloon ascent and satellite imagery, together with weather models from the Met Office and other national centres, alongside broad guidance from Met Office Headquarters in Exeter. The difference being you’re the only Met Office forecaster for a couple of thousand miles in a data sparse area, so the model isn’t as refined and the best guidance will still be fairly broad so you have to use your own initiative and experience if a sudden decision comes your way.
Background activities include recording statistics and commenting on model performance and guidance to help improve the next iteration of the model, with the MMU presenting a unique viewpoint compared to the UK centric bulk of Met Office operations.
As the afternoon presses on, weather conditions that may deteriorate into the night are reassessed, notably smog, snow or surface ice in the winter, and if required I will be preparing to brief any night flying alongside some prep work for the coming day’s forecast. Then there are some additional external forecasts for the airbridge between the UK and theatre to send to the UK alongside a radio piece for the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).
Fit to fight
Fitness is always a priority in the military so running laps or a quick trip to the COVID-Secure outdoor gym is encouraged, although as Kabul occasionally steals the title of most polluted air in the world during the winter, most prefer to go mid-afternoon as the smog is at its most dispersed!
The day concludes with a debrief for the aircrew – an opportunity to review the day, where I get the aircrew’s experience of the weather as they encountered it, enabling a better understanding of local meteorological effects and a better forecast in future.
Finally, it’s off to the D-Fac (that’s dining facility to you) for dinner, then off to my bunk to catch the folks back home (4.5 hours behind Afghan) thanks to the good internet – another bonus of a well-founded base, which is never a guarantee! Then it’s to bed and repeat until your replacement flies in.
What does the MMU mean to me?
For me, the Mobile Met Unit is the best of the Met Office in one place, the opportunity to work where your output immediately impacts the outcome, and that outcome matters. It is a role where a high degree of autonomy is required, but one where the whole Met Office from the guidance unit to the science department is on hand to help if you need it. Nonetheless, where time allows, I have been involved in charity runs, festive football matches, many a dry pub quiz and even some seriously amateur volleyball; it is a step apart from life in the UK but you are doing so as part of a team, working as part of the RAF, and it builds a great sense of camaraderie – I truly enjoy working with them.