Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster
Storm Prediction Center
By Ariel Cohen (SPC) and Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications)
Q: How did you get into weather?
Like most meteorologists, I have been interested in the weather from an early age.
My parents claim I would frequently watch The Weather Channel as a two-year-old, which is probably not a typical habit for someone of that age.
I'm not exactly sure why or how I became interested in the weather.
It's just something I’ve always been drawn to.
Q: Describe the path leading up to your job at the SPC. How did it develop your interest in severe storms forecasting?
I spent parts of my childhood living in California, Arizona, and Iowa, so I was exposed to a wide variety of climates.
I experienced several interesting severe thunderstorm and winter weather events in Iowa, one of which occurred on May 18, 1997.
I remember taking cover in the basement with my family and observing a rotating wall cloud out of the basement window that looked to the north.
I wasn't exactly sure what I was seeing at the time, but observing the rapid cloud motion within the thunderstorm base really got me excited.
I started my career as a student employee at the National Weather Service office in Phoenix and then eventually gained full-time employment as a Meteorologist Intern at that same office before coming to work for SPC.
Q: What educational background helped you get to your career today?
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in geography from Arizona State University, and a Master of Science degree in atmospheric science from Texas Tech University.
At Texas Tech, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in field projects related to severe weather research, which exposed me to a whole different side of meteorology.
Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
I really enjoy working at SPC, because we have the opportunity to forecast almost every hazardous weather event nationwide, whether it's severe, fire, or winter weather.
It's hard to get bored working here.
We are also very active with research given our unique position as a national center, which complements the day-to-day forecasting very well.
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your career?
Having the opportunity to work at SPC is something I am very proud of and grateful for.
Not only do I get a chance to experience a wide range of interesting weather, but I also get to spend time working with very talented and passionate co-workers.
It's a privilege being able to learn from the more experienced forecasters here.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I am one of four SPC employees who are drummers.
Also, I am the only SPC forecaster who is originally from a location west of the Great Plains.
The hot and dry weather in Arizona gave me a unique perspective in dealing with Oklahoma summers.
Q: What advice would you provide to the up-and-coming meteorologists?
Take advantage of every possible opportunity, and don't be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone.
A lot of students have impressive academic backgrounds, but one thing that can differentiate yourself is the relationships you develop before you enter the workforce.
Volunteering with the National Weather Service is a great way to gain valuable experience and establish those connections for your professional career, even if you don't choose to become an operational meteorologist.
Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I am still relatively new in my career, and there are always exciting opportunities around the National Weather Service, but I really enjoy working at SPC and hope to stay here for the long haul.
Q: What is the most memorable experience of your career?
I worked the day shift on May 20, 2013, when an EF5 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma.
I recall watching the storm develop on radar, and we knew it was in an environment favorable for producing a strong tornado, so it was very unnerving.
A lot of the SPC employees, including myself, had family and friends who were in the path of the storm.
Forecasting severe weather for other parts of the country is something we do routinely, but when it hits in your own backyard, it serves as a reminder of how devastating these storms can be.
That motivates me to keep doing the best possible job I can.
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