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Image of Joey Picca, Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster

Joey Picca
Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster
Operations Branch
Storm Prediction Center

 

By Ariel Cohen (SPC) and Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications)

 

Q: How did you get into weather?

I grew up in north Texas, which is certainly well versed in high-impact weather such as severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. That alone fostered a passion for meteorology from a young age. Events like the March 2000 downtown Fort Worth tornado and the "Mayfest" hailstorm in Fort Worth further encouraged my appreciation for weather. Additionally, I grew up practically underneath the final approach path for an airport. This approach often is used when the area sees strong northwest winds behind a cold front or storm outflow boundary. As a kid, watching a jetliner roar overhead with stormy skies nearby was always fascinating. Those experiences created an interest in weather and its effects on aviation.

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

Growing up in the southern Plains was instrumental in developing my interest in severe storms. I always wanted to learn more about storms so my parents took me on tours of the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Fort Worth and local TV stations. That passion never waned, and I eventually became a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma. During my time as an undergrad, the National Weather Center opened, which houses the SPC. In fact, during my senior year, I spent a semester in the SPC's Career Experience Program, working with Rich Thompson and Steve Goss, giving me the proverbial "foot in the door." After grad school at OU and working three very rewarding years at the NWS Weather Forecast Office in New York, New York, I returned to Norman to start with the SPC.

Q: What educational background helped you get to your career today?

In addition to my bachelor's and master's degrees in meteorology from OU, I had the incredible fortune of working as a research assistant alongside some brilliant minds in radar meteorology at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, such as Alexander Ryzhkov and Matthew Kumjian. And now back in Norman, I have started Ph.D. work as I'm driven to find new ways to incorporate the latest and greatest in radar meteorology into operations.

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

There are several topics, but for brevity's sake, I would say the main one is forecasting weather all over the Lower 48 states. I'm only in my second year as a forecaster at the SPC, and learning the various severe, fire, and winter weather patterns across the country has been a very challenging, yet extremely rewarding experience. And to do it alongside some of the pillars of the severe storms forecasting community makes it such a worthwhile experience.

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

While at the New York NWS office, I had the wonderful fortune of meeting at the time 101-year-old Richard G. Hendrickson, a cooperative weather observer in Bridgehampton, New York, on Long Island. He was the only observer in the history of the program to serve for more than 80 years. With the help of several others, I interviewed him and produced a video clip documenting his work. The following year, he was honored with the Richard G. Hendrickson 80-year service award (named in his honor) and some of my previous work was utilized for the festivities and news stories. To be even just a small part of getting Richard the recognition he so greatly deserved is something I'll always cherish. And, I will never forget having the opportunity to sit and chat with him regarding his experiences such as the 1938 "Long Island Express" hurricane. He was an amazing individual and an integral part of the NWS observation network.

Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

I was the Dallas Stars "fan of the year" in 2004, and I received a pilot's license from training on a Cessna-152 in the (sometimes turbulent) skies of Oklahoma in 2010-2011. Also, I have a fond appreciation for pizza, donuts, and coffee.

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

Find your niche. Find a specialty in meteorology or a related field to separate yourself from the crowd. Focusing on dual-polarization radar as a grad student was one of the best decisions I made in college, because I was able to create so many opportunities from it. But even more important than finding a specialty, make sure you sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It goes fast.

Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?

In a dream world, I see myself operating a successful pizza shop called "Pie in the Sky," where you get a fantastic pizza with an accurate weather forecast on the side at no extra charge. In reality, I hope to continue practicing operational meteorology and serving as a conduit between research and operations with regards to radar meteorology. Indeed, if I’m still doing that here at the SPC in 5-10 years, I will certainly be happy.

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

It's a four-month stretch at the New York NWS office in which I worked during Hurricane Sandy and the Northeast blizzard of February 2013. I launched (or at least attempted to launch) weather balloons in the heart of both storms, which was both exciting and somewhat frightening. More importantly, working alongside dedicated and talented individuals during the height of Sandy was an experience I did not take for granted. It's rare for individuals to possess focus and courage to continue performing their job at a high level while their family or home may be threatened. It's rarer still to be able to witness those traits firsthand, and I was very lucky to do so. As for the blizzard, let's just say performing meteorologist intern duties in a 31-inch snowstorm is both mentally and physically exhausting. But I'd do it all over again!

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