KETs Electronic Field Trip to the National Weather Service travels to the Louisville Regional Office of the NWS to give students in grades 5 through 8 an insiders look at how this service of the federal government fulfills its mission to protect lives and property by issuing timely and accurate watches and warnings for all types of severe weather.
Mike Callahan, the host of the program (and service hydrologist at the Louisville office), introduces people who work in the office, and they, in turn, explain their individual duties as well as how they work together as a team to deliver important weather information to the public.
Mission and Structure of the NWS
Mike first introduces Meteorologist in Charge Kimberly Pye, who shares the following information:
- The mission of the agency.
- How the local National Weather Service offices fit into the federal government hierarchy:
- U.S. Department of Commerce
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- National Weather Service
- regional offices
- How Kentucky is protected by three regional weather service offices: Louisville (Jefferson County), Jackson (Breathitt County), and Paducah (McCracken County). An on-screen map shows the locations of these offices.
- The number of people who work at the Louisville office and their specialties.
Mike then visits the Operations Area to illustrate that forecasting the weather depends heavily on the use of various technologies. He explains that the job of forecasting is broken into three major workstations:
- Short-Term ForecastingJames Brotherton in short-term forecasting talks about the hour-by-hour monitoring of weather for possible severe weather conditions and about specialized forecasting for aviation, including predicting possible wind shear events.
- Long-Term ForecastingTony Sturey explains how he creates extended forecasts, looking at weather patterns a week ahead to create a seven-day forecast. He talks about the use of the AWIPS computer model, which analyzes data from NWS offices around the country to produce a snapshot of what the atmosphere will look like through a seven-day period. Tony also explains how this information is then delivered as text to the public over the Internet and to TV meteorologists to disseminate.
- HydrologyThe workings of the water cycle is host Mike Callahans own area of expertise. He shows his hydrologic workstation and explains how he keeps track of the amount of rainfall and its effects on streams and rivers. This information allows him to monitor the possibility of flooding, which can cause much property damage and loss of life. In Kentucky, flooding kills more people than either tornadoes or thunderstorms.
Mike then introduces Science Officer Ted Funk, who describes the many different technologies used for tracking weather: automated surface observing systems, weather balloons, GOES weather satellites, and Doppler radar. Ted also explains that learning is an ongoing process at the National Weather Service; its his job to make sure that the forecasters are up-to-date on the latest techniques. One training tool he shows is a computer program called the Weather Events Simulator.
Electronic Technician Mark Schweitzer greets Mike in the noisy computer room. He explains the importance of maintaining the equipment, such as the computers in the office, the NEXRAD (another name for the Doppler radar system), and automated weather systems in the area.
Data Program Manager/Cooperative Weather Observer Program
Data Program Manager Larry Datillo describes the network of volunteers, from all walks of life, who take the time to go out once a day to take weather observations, using rain gauges and other equipment provided by the NWS. They report this information to the nearest regional office, where it is combined with a wealth of other data to create a more complete picture of weather conditions around the state. Larry shows one of the standard rain gauges used by the volunteers.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist
Norm Reitmeyer explains his responsibility to make sure that the staff and weather spotters are prepared to deal with adverse weather when it occurs. He explains NOAA Weather Radio, one way in which warnings go out to the public, and describes the role of the weather spotters who get on-the-ground observations. They report back to the NWS about both incoming severe weather and its aftereffects, such as storm or tornado damage. Norm stresses that spotters are instructed always to think of their own safety first and to take shelter if a severe weather event threatens them.
The Safe Room/Tornado Safety Rules
In this final segment of the tour, Mike shows students the reinforced safe room where NWS personnel can go during severe weather. He then explains that even though you probably dont have a safe room at home, following these four rules can keep you safe during a tornado or severe storm:
- Go to the lowest floor of the building.
- Stay away from windows.
- Go to the middle of the building.
- Protect yourself as well as possible.
Mike concludes the trip by reviewing that forecasting the weather requires a dedicated team of trained volunteers and professionals who collect data, analyze it, and then send it out to the public.