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Meteorologists adapt to changing weather

An employee is lucky if they can get along with their boss, but when you have to answer to Mother Nature every day, going into work can be pretty unpredictable.

“The weather here in Wisconsin is always exciting,” says Jeff Last, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “Every day is a new challenge. The thing about this job is if you’re having a difficult day or forecast, you know when you’ll come back the next day it will be totally different because weather changes constantly.”

 

Last, along with a team of 13 other meteorologists in Green Bay, have to be on top of weather patterns and potential year-round storms before they reach the Fox Valley and the 22 surrounding counties the service also covers.

“I oversee the warning and forecast operations and outreach program,” says Last. “I’m the liaison between our office and our emergency management and the media and law enforcement.”

Last’s main responsibility is transferring weather information to anyone who needs it.

“One of my duties is to ensure that the partners we work with, which include emergency management law enforcement to the Department of Transportation to anyone else who needs weather information,” says Last. “I make sure the forecast and warnings we put together are meeting the needs of these customers and important partners.”

This communication mostly happens when there is a severe weather situation, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes or wintertime storms.

“In the wintertime, storms typically take much longer to form and we’re able to track those low pressure systems, which produce heavy snow when they’re approaching the West Coast of the U.S,” says Last.

Another major part of Last’s job is to keep up to date on the newest weather forecasting technology to ensure he can deliver the quickest weather forecasts.

“All of our forecast staff have to go through training on an annual basis, especially when there’s new technology,” says Last.

In Last’s 28-year career with the National Weather Service, he says technology has never changed so drastically as it has in the last 15 years.

“One of the biggest advances with respect to severe weather forecasting like thunderstorms and tornadoes was the deployment of the Doppler Radar network that we have throughout the country,” says Last. “The Doppler Radar has allowed us to look inside thunderstorms with more detail, not only showing us where the heaviest rain is, but also we’re able to look at the wind patterns inside of thunderstorms.”

This radar has helped protect public safety, as it is able to map weather conditions that could be dangerous.

“The network of Doppler Radars has increased warning lead time, or the time between a warning issued and severe weather,” says Last. “Our goal for severe thunderstorms, which include straight line winds and large hail, is 15-20 minutes so people can move away from outdoors.”

Compared to 15-20 years ago when weather forecasts were typed up, weather forecasts have become more graphical and easier to read.

“Now we draw the weather and how weather patterns are going to change with time,” Last says. “We create a digital forecast database which allows our customers, partners and the public to grasp forecasts in a format they can use.”

Technology isn’t slowing down anytime soon either, with the development of super computers that will make long-range predictions more accurate, the National Center for Environmental Prediction will be able to predict weather further into the future.

“At NCEP they have the fastest super computers which run forecast models and simulations,” says Last. “This is the basis of weather forecasts we all use, so when those come online over the next four months, it will allow scientists over at NCEP to create better forecast simulations and models.”

Although these super computers haven’t been fired up yet, Last says meteorologists are still able to comfortably predict how this winter will shake out.

“It looks like we may have a cold winter,” says Last. “Not as cold as last winter, which is the good news, but when we look back on 2014-15 we will be seeing some cold snaps and storms, but that’s pretty typical.”

— By Haley Walters

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