In celebration of National Weatherpersons Day, we spoke to some of our many meteorologists to gain some insights into their profession. Everyday this week we’ll be featuring a Q&A with one of our weather experts.
Today we focus on Joe Urh, Forecast Meteorologist. Joe is part of the team of meteorologists that staff Iteris’ Weather Operations Center 24/7 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Why did you become a meteorologist?
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the weather. I always checked the evening news as a child to see if a big snowstorm was on the horizon and school would be cancelled. In the warmer months, I needed to know if my baseball game would be rained out. This passion stayed with me through the years and when it came time to attend college, choosing a major was easy!
What do you find important about the subject?
No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, the weather impacts your life. The weather impacts everyone and everything. Nothing can bring a bustling city to a standstill like a major snowstorm. And even those who spend as little time outdoors as possible are impacted by the weather. A cold winter or hot summer and you're paying more to keep your house comfortable. No matter how much you may love it or hate it, the weather impacts nearly every aspect of your life everyday.
What is the biggest myth you've heard about the weather?
The biggest myth/annoyance about meteorologists I hear is kind of a two-fold complaint... we get paid to be wrong and computers ("the models") can do our job as effectively as we can. One of my friends jokingly calls me a "weather guesser" because to the non-meteorologist, we are just guessing at what we think will happen or trying to please a particular audience. Then if/when the forecast does not turn out completely correct, we talk about "the models" as if we just one picked at random and ran with it.
What I feel people do not realize is that there are dozens of models meteorologists can choose from to make a forecast. And often times, the models by themselves do not do particularly well with the forecast. Effective meteorologists tend to know each model's strengths and weaknesses and can accurately tweak their forecast to account for model shortcomings. There's also not one weather model that does consistently well... just like humans, computer models have good days and bad days (or even hours). If weather forecasts were made strictly based upon one computer model, forecasts would unquestionably be worse and more erratic than the human-crafted forecasts everyone is accustomed to seeing daily.
What is the #1 question people ask you when you tell them you're a meteorologist?
Probably a tie between "what's the weather going to be like?" and "which television station do you work for?"
What is your favorite type of weather and area to forecast?
My favorite type of weather is lake-effect snow. I'm definitely a snow lover and enjoy seeing any kind of snow. I do get enjoyment out of huge snowstorms, but lake-effect snow is a whole different beast. I find special fascination in the fact that you can get a foot of snow within a few hours in one location, only to drive 15 minutes away and hardly see any snow.
My favorite areas to forecast for are the Great Lakes and Midwest because, while I do enjoy snow, I also enjoy the great seasonal variations that occur in those parts of the country. There's something unique about being able to forecast a blizzard in January and a severe weather outbreak in July.
What do you find most challenging and rewarding about your job?
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my job is trying to convey uncertainty in a forecast to the client. Most people do not want you to say "there's a CHANCE of snow today." People want a definitive answer - it WILL snow or it will NOT snow. After all, what is a chance? Should I change my plans because there is a chance of inclement weather? This challenge is especially great in the summer with pop-up thunderstorms. You know there will be storms... and you can often see them from any given location... but the odds that storm moves over your head and rains on you may not be very high.
Another fundamental challenge that I think is often overlooked is the fact that as meteorologists, we are trying to predict the future. Despite all the data we have available, we do not know for certain what will happen until it occurs. Often times we are correct but there are times when we are not. A good analogy is a March Madness bracket... you think you know what will happen based on statistics. But does it ever go exactly according to plan?
In that same line of thought, one of the most rewarding aspects about my job is being able to provide accurate predictions to clients, friends, family, etc., especially if they are unaware of the impending situation and need to take special action. I also enjoy that every day features something different and that no two days are ever alike.
For more weather insights, follow @Iteris_Weather on Twitter.