"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
"In a recipe, if you have A, B, C and D, you get a certain result," Tumbiolo
"Here, a lot of weather comes in off the ocean, of course," Tumbiolo
"That was my biggest transition, getting my hands around the fact that weather comes in from all different directions depending on what kind of day we're having."
The key to deciphering changes is experience, Tumbiolo
Still, the weather holds a few surprises.
"Sometimes things happen, and to be honest, you just don't know, 'Why did it happen?' But that's part of being a meteorologist."
, who has been performing the job for 21 years, forecasts for about a dozen launches a year, including missions for LSP.
and the group of five weather officers, the payoff for a correct forecast is a spectacular rocket launching into the sky to begin a multimillion-dollar mission.
The penalty for an inaccurate prediction can be dire.
"We have to forecast for a very specific time, a specific location," Tumbiolo
"So we can't give a general, broad-brush (forecast), like, 'There's a 30 percent chance of showers today.' "
The meteorologists work from a set of rules that everyone must agree are "go" before a launch is allowed.
Each rule covers a specific condition, such as the likelihood of lightning occurring during launch.
"We are evaluating rules, not just making subjective judgments," Tumbiolo
The good news is that the forecasters have a lot of technological help to show them everything from clouds, rain and humidity levels to wind high above the surface.
From weather balloons to Doppler radar and sophisticated computer models, the forecasters aren't working alone to decipher the future.
"We probably have the densest network of weather instrumentation than any other place that I know of," Tumbiolo
Sometimes, though, forecasters want their own perspective.
As a countdown moves toward zero, Tumbiolo
way to the roof of the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The view covers most of the sprawling base and the sky.
"To me, your best instrument is your eyeballs," Tumbiolo
There have been a few times when instruments were overruled by the forecasters.
For example, radar picked up a small cloud ahead of an Atlas launch.
The cloud was predicted to dissipate quickly.
When it started growing, Tumbiolo
went outside for a firsthand look.
"We have a rule called the 'good sense rule' where it's just that," Tumbiolo
said, "If all the other rules are not in violation but it just doesn't look right to you, things are happening fast, or clouds are forming fast or it just doesn't feel good, we can invoke the rule and in all the time I've been here there's been maybe once or twice when we invoked that rule.
It's up to the launch director to give a final "go" to liftoff, but Tumbiolo
never felt pressure from them to green-light a forecast just to get the mission started.
"Most of the launch directors are very weather-knowledgeable," Tumbiolo
"The weather involved in every launch is always different," Tumbiolo