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Image of Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster
Operations Branch
Storm Prediction Center

 

By Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications)

 

Q: How did you get into weather?

Weather has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Growing up in central Ohio, my fascination with severe thunderstorms, and meteorology in general, developed from a deep-seated fear of thunderstorms. Knowing their potentially destructive power instilled a sense of fear in me, yet also motivated me to learn more about the weather and how it can be forecast. I vividly remember summertime squall lines with strong winds rolling across the middle Ohio Valley at night during summer vacation from elementary and middle school, always being mesmerized and frightened by their power. I decided I wanted to work as a forecaster in the NOAA National Weather Service from a very young age, and was already making connections with NWS staff by middle school. My family always supported my dreams to pursue my passion, affording me tremendous opportunities to grow past my initial fears and be able to explain them.

Q: Describe the path leading up to your job at the SPC. How did it develop your interest in severe storms forecasting?

As a high school student, I had a special opportunity to work as a volunteer at the NWS Forecast Office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the spring of 2003. It was a very active tornado season, and my childhood dream of reading dozens and dozens of Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings live on NOAA Weather Radio came true, as I regularly operated and manually recorded on NOAA Weather Radio stations across the NWS Tulsa County Warning Area. My incredibly dedicated and caring mentor there, retired Science and Operations Officer Steve Amburn, worked closely with me in my initial development of becoming a meteorologist. I owe a tremendous amount of my career path to his support, along with my family’s support. From my experiences in Tulsa, I was confident that being an NWS forecaster was my career goal.

After graduating high school, I attended The Ohio State University as an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences. During the summer prior to my final year at Ohio State, I was a Research Experiences for Undergraduates student at the Storm Prediction Center and NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, studying mesoscale convective system severity under Steve and Sarah Corfidi and Mike Coniglio. I would one day work again with all of these individuals later in my career. My goal of working at the SPC was reaffirmed that summer, and my experiences further encouraged me to attend The University of Oklahoma as a graduate student. I earned my M.S. degree in meteorology from OU, studying fine-scale numerical modeling relevant for understanding the relationship between cloud and precipitation physics and lightning at the NSSL.

While completing my master’s degree at OU, I became a General Forecaster at the NWS office in Great Falls, Montana, where I worked for almost a year. Between winter weather and fire weather forecasting, issuing my first Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings, learning about mountain meteorology, and developing skills in handling bitterly cold temperatures and snow while releasing weather balloons, my introduction to the NWS was quite diverse. I then headed to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, to work as an analyst at the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch of the NOAA National Hurricane Center, where I picked up much experience in tropical meteorology and marine forecasting. I had a great experience developing the Graphical Forecast Editor for eventual operational use at the NHC and the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) on a team of outstanding computer scientists and meteorologists. I proceeded to work at the NWS office in Jackson, Mississippi, for about a year and a half, after almost a year in Miami. I had the opportunity to work some high profile weather events at Jackson. For example, I issued my first and only Tornado Emergency for a significant tornado just east of Yazoo City, Mississippi. That experience was a major benchmark in my career as it combined my passion for providing the best service possible using science when it matters most, hopefully saving many lives. All of the experiences that I had from my time in public school in central Ohio to my time in Jackson were instrumental in having the opportunity to work my dream job at the SPC, starting at very beginning of 2011.

Q: What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your career?

The greatest accomplishment of my career was earning a Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma while concurrently working full time as an SPC forecaster, during the course of 4.5 years. This was a particularly grueling period, when I was performing all of my operational tasks and also meeting coursework and research demands for school. My research involved studying wintertime severe-weather events in the southeastern United States, with an emphasis on improving their depiction in numerical models through representations of lower atmospheric turbulence. This work has direct connections with my operational duties, and it was exciting, yet challenging to master both simultaneously. Ultimately, doing so allowed me to combine my experiences with forecasting and academia into a dissertation that uncovered new aspects of severe storms forecasting and modeling, which is very fulfilling to me.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?

The opportunity to merge my passion in meteorology with my desire to help protect people makes my job exciting. We use science to help people every day, and this, I find, is very fulfilling. The opportunity to mentor up-and-coming meteorologists is also exciting. In recent years, I have developed and co-taught a graduate-level course for University of Oklahoma meteorology students in severe thunderstorm forecasting, taught by SPC/NWS meteorologists and NSSL researchers on their areas of expertise, in collaboration with the OU School of Meteorology. Watching our students witness the science becoming “alive” from a practical sense, and seeing those moments when theoretical concepts and applications begin to make sense and become relatable, are very satisfying, as we train the next generation of meteorologists. Furthermore, performing science-advancing research has tremendous meaning to me, as being a pioneer in science while also collaborating with other meteorologists is what allows our knowledge of meteorology to grow.

Q: What advice would you provide to the up-and-coming meteorologists?

To up-and-coming meteorologists, I strongly recommend that you be true to your passion. Be introspective, and decide what you want to do, and then put everything you can into making it come true. The road will be challenging, and situations will arise where you doubt yourself, but always remember that growth, learning, and experience are all choices. Dedication and hard work are paramount to being successful. But, most importantly, I encourage anyone who desires to pursue this field to embrace other people and ideas in working with a diverse group of individuals, to respect others, to care about others, and to take on new challenges and experiences that displace oneself from one’s comfort zone by growing in a positive way.

Q: What is the most memorable experience of your career?

My final shift working at the NWS office in Jackson, Mississippi was 17 hours long during a severe weather event. At one point during this event, we had to take cover from a tornado that approached the office. After returning to operations, I proceeded with issuing around 40 Tornado Warnings and Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, combined, for the ArkLaMiss region and surrounding locations into the pre-dawn hours as the year changed from 2010 to 2011. I was saying goodbye to my coworkers at the WFO while working radar, but I never lost focus on serving the residents of the NWS Jackson CWA. That shift was one of my longest ever, and included mandatorily taking shelter from a tornado for my first time. Only a couple of days later, I started my position at the SPC. The type of severe weather regime that I worked that long night was the general foundation for my Ph.D. research at The University of Oklahoma.

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