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Air Force Weather


A History of AFCCC and Military Applied Climatology

Our Mission and an Overview of Military Applied Climatology

The mission of AFCCC is one of military applied climatology. We collect, maintain, and apply worldwide weather data, creating climatological products to strengthen the combat capability of America's warfighters. AFCCC's support to America's warfighters has a long history. Centuries ago this knowledge was very limited, but even so, we know that Julius Caesar, when planning the invasion of England, was concerned about the effects of strong gales upon his ships while transporting troops across the English Channel. Centuries later, these gales played a decisive role in the destruction of the Spanish Armada.

During the 20th Century, automated methods in climatology have enabled us to increase our knowledge of the atmosphere and its effects on military weapon systems and operations. Today, we are well prepared to inform our warfighters about the weather so that they may include it in their Order of Battle. We have a long history of support to America's warfighters. Therefore, please enjoy the following tale of our origins:

The Origins of Military Applied Climatology

The paper punched card, developed by Herman Hollerith for use in the 1890 U.S. Census, made the use of historical weather records a practical means for determining the probability of future weather events and patterns. The British used punched cards successfully in about 1920 to extract wind data from ships' logs and to produce wind roses for ocean regions. The Dutch Meteorological Institute borrowed some of the British cards in 1922 and began their own weather analyses. Norway, France, and Germany soon followed. Then, in 1927, the Czech meteorologist L.W. Pollak placed small and cheap punch machines of his own design in every Czech weather station. As each observation was taken, it was punched on a card that was sent to a central tabulating unit for summary and analysis. Although the equipment for gathering and tabulating weather data has changed since then, the basic idea of the process has not.

The United States, where the punched card originated, was late to join the Europeans in collecting and tabulating weather observations. Fortunately, one of the "make-work" projects of the mid-1930s resulted in a sizable punched card climatic database. A 1934 Works Progress Administration (WPA) project resulted in an atlas of ocean climates, prepared by punching 2 million observations (taken from 1880 to 1933) onto cards and summarizing the results. Another 3 1/2 million observations were processed manually, a task that took 90 percent of the labor devoted to the entire project.

In 1936, the WPA also funded a project that resulted in the compilation and analysis of millions of surface and upper-air observations taken from 1928 to 1941. From this project came a number of climatological publications vital to the nation's preparation for World War II.


The Army Air Forces Weather Research Center's Climatological Section was born at Bolling Field, 10 September 1941. This was just a week after the U.S. Destroyer Greer was attacked by a German submarine off the coast of Iceland. The attack provoked President Franklin Roosevelt to announce that "From now on, if German or Italian vessels of war enter these waters, they do so at their own risk." An unofficial state of war with Germany and Italy existed from that day forward. Although there was strong pressure for neutrality, military visionaries had seen the need to prepare for war as early as 1937, when the Air Weather Service itself was founded.

By 1941, the U.S. Weather Bureau had already turned over most of its climatological records and facilities to the military. Most of the Weather Bureau's climatology had been produced by the depression-induced WPA projects mentioned earlier. Even so, military climatology had a long way to go, especially since the meteorological offices of every major country in Europe had been analyzing the world's weather on punched cards long before World War II began in 1939. The Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941, moved the collection and application of weather statistics to a top-drawer priority overnight. With current weather and forecasts blacked out in hostile areas, planners turned to the climatologists with their questions. Where should air bases be located? How should the runways be oriented? What areas should heavy armor avoid? What should specifications for fuels and lubricants be? How about specifications for landing mats, wires, buildings? What times, dates, and locations are best for amphibious landings ? How about bombing weather? Prevailing winds aloft? With the limited information at their disposal, military climatologists produced climatological summaries to help provide answers to planners' questions. The Army Air Forces climatological effort continued to expand. In 1943, the USAAF Statistical Services Division was created at Winston-Salem, N.C., to begin the routine storage and processing of military weather observations. There was probably no WWII operation, major or minor, that did not include climatological input. The planning for every landing, mission, and offensive, including the D-Day invasion in 1944 and the atomic bombing of Japan, required extensive climatological preparation and analyses.


Although demobilization cut deeply into the Air Weather Service's wartime strength of nearly 19,000, the importance of climatology and its applications continued to be recognized. In early 1946, the military established a Climatology Unit (the AFCCC of its time) at Gravelly Point, VA. The USAAF Statistical Services Division gained responsibility for processing and storing military weather data in 1943, and moved to New Orleans in 1946. There, about 300 people punched weather observations onto cards and summarized them. A major postwar project was processing the "Kopenhagener Schlussel" deck of 7 million captured German punched cards containing weather observations taken during WWII in Europe and the Middle East. In 1948, the Military Climatology Unit (now a division) moved to Andrews AFB, with the well-known climatologist Dr. Woodrow C. Jacobs as its chief.

During the '50s

A Climatic Center at Andrews AFB continued to provide climatological data applications under various designations throughout the decade, with particular emphasis on the war in Korea and the strategic buildup necessitated by the Cold War. In 1952, the Statistical Services Division moved from New Orleans to Asheville, N.C., where it is today. In 1956, the first electronic computer (an IBM 705) became operational at Asheville, signaling the end for the high-speed electronic accounting machines (mostly IBM) used since WWII to process climatology. In 1959, IBM electronic accounting equipment installed at the Climatic Center allowed data processing directly from punched card to tape.

During the '60s

In July 1960, the Data Processing Division at Asheville began reporting to the Climatic Center at Andrews AFB. In 1964, a IBM 7040 computer was installed at the Climatic Center, now in Washington, D.C., at the Navy Yard Annex. In December 1964, the Climatic Center was officially designated the USAF Environmental Technical Applications Center (USAFETAC) and the Data Processing Division became Operating Location A (OL-A) under USAFETAC. Computer upgrades continued. OL-A bought a new IBM 705-III from the Department of Agriculture in 1965 and an IBM 7044 replaced the 7040 in 1966. In 1968, twin RCA Spectra 70/45 computer systems were commissioned at Asheville for joint use by OL-A (then the Data Processing Division) and the National Climatic Data Center (then the National Weather Records Center).

During the '70s

By 1972, OL-A's card-punching function had been all but eliminated, resulting in a manpower drop from about 200 to 122. A further reduction brought OL-A's authorized civilian strength to 83. In 1975, USAFETAC's move to Scott AFB, Ill., was finally completed after the Air Force won a legal battle against opponents who wanted to keep the unit in Washington D. C. The move, which took 13 months and put USAFETAC's project commitments about 2 years behind schedule, was declared complete on 31 October when the new PDP 11/45 and IBM 360/45 computers became operational. In 1976, the AWS Library (a branch of AFCCC and now the largest technical library dedicated to weather in the U.S., if not the world) was officially designated Air Force Library #4414, and named the "AWS Technical Library." In 1979, the twin RCA computers at OL-A were replaced by UNIVAC 1100/10s. And, by the end of 1979, USAFETAC strength stood at 232, with 149 at Scott and 83 at Asheville. Demand for climatological services still exceeded capabilities and the project backlog at the end of the decade stood at nearly fifty thousand man-hours.

During the '80s and '90s

USAFETAC continued to exploit both computer and electronic technologies as its computing power expanded exponentially through the '80s and '90s. To better reflect the changing mission of the unit, USAFETAC was officially renamed the Air Force Combat Climatology Center (AFCCC), effective October 1, 1995. And in July, 1998, AFCCC moved to Asheville, NC, absorbing its OL-A. AFCCC is currently located in the Federal Building Complex along side the National Climatic Data Center.

Today's military climatologists and analysts continue to fulfill the same kinds of customer requirements that their predecessors handled 50 years ago, but with much-improved techniques, equipment, and the scientific knowledge of its personnel. From a few microcomputers shared by eager analysts in 1980, AFCCC now offers many computing choices from among many client/server networks and state-of-the-art climatic databases. To further our role in supporting our customers, AFCCC is continuously exploiting the latest data visualization techniques and other technologies as they become available. We are and intend to remain the recognized leader in DoD climatological support.

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