Storm Prediction Center
By Ariel Cohen (SPC) and Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications)
Q: How did you get into weather?
My initial weather interest began early in grade school when accumulating snows would close area schools in east central Indiana.
I recall the eager anticipation of opening my bedroom window blinds during the mornings snow blanketing the landscape.
By second grade, I remember my first interest in strong thunderstorms while going to and from little league baseball games.
It was around this time I began to watch weather on TV (mostly The Weather Channel) for hours at a time.
I vividly remember an overnight three-hour flash flood event in which five inches of rainfall flooded my neighborhood.
In August 1992, I watched footage of Hurricane Andrew leading up to its landfall in south Florida.
I hand-plotted hurricane eyewall positions of this system onto my laminated chart and updated its location based on information from Hurricane Hunter aircraft.
Only a few years later I made my own unofficial long-range tornado forecast that coincidentally came to fruition.
Q: Describe the path leading up to your job at the SPC. How did it develop your interest in severe storms forecasting?
My early interests in weather were heavy snowfall, flooding, and the occasional severe thunderstorm wind events from squall lines.
It was not until I attended a National Weather Service spotter training seminar in spring 2003 that I became heavily interested in severe weather.
At the time, I was a student at Purdue University. I attended a talk given by a meteorology professor from Ball State University, who discussed his experience in leading a university storm chasing field course in the Great Plains.
This professor left a very strong, positive impression on me.
After a discussion with him the next day regarding Ball State's storm chase field course and their operational meteorology program, I decided to transfer to Ball State.
From that point, my passion for weather was reinvigorated, and my later participation in a 31-day storm chase experience reinforced my passion for severe weather forecasting that eventually led me to work at the SPC.
Q: What educational background helped you get to your career today?
I made the decision to transfer from Purdue University to Ball State University in an attempt to focus more on operational meteorology – a strong point of the Ball State program.
As part of my undergraduate experience at Ball State, I was selected to produce an educational documentary film on severe weather awareness focused on Indiana entitled, "Tornado Alley: Back Home in Indiana."
During my time in college, a crucial decision for me was getting in contact with the NWS Indianapolis Weather Forecast Office, which led to my experience as a student volunteer there.
This afforded me practical applications to what I was learning in school.
I was also fortunate to have been selected for the National Weather Center Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in Norman, Oklahoma.
This 10-week research fellowship was instrumental for me to be where I am now, and fostered my growth as an operationally-oriented research scientist.
I worked then with professional meteorologists and mentors who I now call friends and colleagues.
I subsequently finished both my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees at Ball State University.
Lastly, my involvement and participation in professional weather conferences has been important in my development as a scientist.
Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
The weather is constantly changing and never exactly repeats, despite exhibiting characteristics sometimes similar to previous days/events.
This is definitely the case with severe weather forecasting.
I gain the most job satisfaction in working the high-impact events, particularly tornado outbreaks, derechoes, and giant-hail events.
A less publicized but, in my opinion, very satisfying feeling is working together with people as a part of operationally focused, applied research projects.
The perspective of forecasting severe weather across the contiguous United States 24/7 and 365 days a year is stimulating and invaluable.
The large number and many types of severe weather events for which I have forecasted have allowed me to rapidly gain experience in
forecasting across the country.
Likewise, the applicability of meteorological research across the many geographic scales on which we focus is very interesting to me.
The development of new techniques and tools and their applications to forecasting give me a very satisfying feeling of pushing the frontier of science forward!
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your career?
My greatest accomplishment is applying new concepts I have learned in working on collaborative research projects, and then using the knowledge gained to issue forecasts that express probabilities or confidence that an expected outcome will come to fruition.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I enjoy gardening.
More specifically, I find satisfaction in planting trees and flowering shrubs and tracking vegetation growth.
In recent years I have found myself learning more about various species of plants.
This is a hobby I can enjoy for most of the year.
I also enjoy informally storm chasing during a few days in the spring.
Q: What advice would you provide to the up-and-coming meteorologists?
To quote the famous Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken:" "...Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference."
Find your own path, work hard toward your goals, and be persistent.
If you struggle with a certain aspect of meteorology or are perhaps weaker in some areas, don't be discouraged; intangible qualities that are not easily measured are just as important.
Be as creative as possible.
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