Mesoscale Assistant/Fire Weather Forecaster
Storm Prediction Center
By Ariel Cohen (SPC) and Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications)
Q: How did you get into weather?
As with many other meteorologists, my fascination with the weather started early.
I grew up in central Texas where thunderstorms are quite common.
Some of my earliest weather memories are staying up late watching The Weather Channel
when there were storms around, so I could see radar images.
I got excited whenever the warning text scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
The Jarrell tornado in 1997 occurred south of where I lived at the time and fostered
an increased fascination with tornadoes.
I had a set of tornado videos accompanying a book that described each tornado,
and I remember watching that video set over and over.
When it came time to choose a college major, meteorology was an obvious choice,
although no one told me how much math and physics would be involved!
Q: Describe the path leading up to your job at the SPC. How did it develop your interest in severe storms forecasting?
My fascination with weather started early, but it really didn't become more than just
a hobby until after my first few years of college.
I was in the meteorology program at Texas A&M University, which further increased
my love for the weather despite all the hard coursework.
It was all so complex that it easily kept my interest going.
During the first year of my master's degree program, I participated in an internship
with the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office in Houston, Texas.
I worked at this internship for two years while also completing my degree.
My master's degree research topic was focused on cloud-to-ground lightning in southeast
Texas, so I was able to put much of the research to immediate use in the forecast office.
While there, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, providing me with the unique experience
of working as an operational meteorologist during a land-falling hurricane.
The eye of the storm came directly over the office, which currently tops my list of memorable weather experiences.
After Houston, I worked at the NWS Forecast Office in Fort Worth, Texas, where
I launched weather balloons (including one live on a TV morning show),
issued day-to-day forecasts, answered public and media phone calls, and performed many
other tasks (including cleaning out many old and oily rain gauges).
There were numerous severe thunderstorm and flooding events during my time there,
which further increased my fascination with severe weather.
Some memorable events during my time in Fort Worth include: a tornado damage survey
in Rice, Texas; the wind and snow event of Christmas Eve 2009; stepping through
someone's ceiling while installing a temperature sensor; and working overtime many
nights during severe weather operations. After my time in Fort Worth,
I was fortunate enough to get a job at SPC.
Q: What educational background helped you get to your career today?
I received B.S. and M.S. degrees in meteorology from Texas A&M University and was
able to take advantage of some unique opportunities while there that set me up
well for my NWS career.
Texas A&M has its own radar on top of the meteorology building, and undergraduate
and graduate students are allowed to run this radar during weather events.
I participated in this program for three years and gained very valuable experience
regarding everything from forecasting flooding to troubleshooting radar-related issues.
Additionally, I worked in the Office of the Texas State Climatologist for four years,
where I answered media requests, wrote weather summaries, and kept the web page up-to-date.
I was also hired as an undergraduate research assistant during my junior and senior years,
through which I learned a great deal about computer programming, meteorological datasets,
radar, and working within a team of researchers.
Each of these opportunities provided me with additional information and experience
that is difficult to gain in the classroom.
Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
It seems almost every day I find some interesting weather element,
so getting to come to work and observe many interesting things each day is very fulfilling for me.
One thing I find continually interesting is how much little things can have a big impact.
For example, we are constantly looking for boundaries in the surface conditions
(differences between one or more observed surface elements, such as temperatures, dewpoints, or winds).
These boundaries tend to be where storms begin, or where already-developed storms intensify.
These boundaries can sometimes mean the difference between no thunderstorms at all and strong to severe thunderstorms.
Something else that interests me (and many other meteorologists) is how no two days are the same.
It is rarely boring. Being able to provide service to such a large number of people is also very satisfying.
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your career?
This is a tough question for me, because I feel so grateful to have the career I have.
I think one of the greatest accomplishments thus far is just getting the job here at SPC.
I never thought I would be a forecaster here, and working here has been a very good experience so far.
Also, I was awarded a National Weather Service Isaac M. Cline Award in 2014 for some web development I did.
I feel very grateful other people appreciated the work that went into the project.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I really like history and like to read non-fiction, historical books.
I also enjoy woodworking and typically have some type of project either ongoing or in the works.
I am one of four SPC employees who play drums.
Q: What advice would you provide to the up-and-coming meteorologists?
Make sure you are doing more than just the basic classwork.
Take advantage of an internship or volunteer opportunity.
Try to work with other researchers or meteorologists on ongoing projects
within your department or at a National Weather Service office.
Experience is very important in our field, so get as much of it as you can. Most importantly, be humble.
Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
Working as a meteorologist in the National Weather Service.
Q: What are the most memorable experiences of your career?
Working a forecast shift in Houston during the landfall of Hurricane Ike is at the top of the list.
The storm came right over the office, so we experienced hurricane-force winds for several hours,
plus we got to go out in the eye of the storm.
It was pretty incredible.
Another memorable experience was working the day shift here at the SPC on May 20, 2013,
when a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, just a few miles north of the National Weather Center.
I had several friends who work in that area, plus I live nearby.
It was very close to home, and I was shaken up by all the destruction.
Trying to remain focused on my tasks at work was challenging with all that was going on so close.
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