18 Ways To Become A Better Meteorologist

I’ve often reflected on my days working as a full-time meteorologist, and I wish I had learned some key lessons much earlier in my career. Alternatively, I wish there been someone to be honest and tell me these lessons of life years ago. Being a meteorologist is a challenge, a gift, a pain, and a reward. It’s easy to get lost in your career and model data, but after 10 years working as a meteorologist and 1.5 years working in the business world (and also time to reflect of my previous career), I wanted to share 18 ways to be the best meteorologist you can be:

1. Realize what your job really is. Suppose you’re an NBA player. What is your job? Is it to score the most points? Is it to be the game MVP? Is it to get the least number of fouls? It’s none of these. It’s actually to get the most number of people in the stands and watching you on TV as possible. It sounds selfish, but without tickets being sold and audiences watching you, you’re likely to be out of a job because your team needs to make money. Now suppose you as a businessperson at a local firm. What is your job? Is it to make the most numbers of sales in your peer group? Is it to give your customers a new product or service every month? Is it to build your resume? Just like the NBA, it’s none of the above…and it’s really to maximize the company’s profits and brand ethically, sustainably, and responsibly. Now you’re a meteorologist. What is your job? It is likely to increase your company’s profits. If you’re a operational meteorologist in the private sector, it’s to get people paying for your forecasts or seeing advertisements where they are posted. If you’re an National Weather Service meteorologist, you’re in a unique position: your job to to issue forecasts, outlooks, advisories, warnings, and watches that protect life and property…or create tools that fulfill this mission. If you’re a broadcast meteorologist, your job is to sustain or boost ratings through marketing and accurate forecasts (perceived or reality). You don’t have to have the best forecast to make the most money; you just have to have superior perception or superior value to customers.

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2. Start looking at those you forecast for as customers. Speaking of customers: those who see your products and forecasts are not “viewers” or “the public.” They are customers. If you think back to your summer jobs in high school and college, you served customers with a smile and by giving those who came into your business a product or service with value. People who read your forecasts or hear your weather presentation should be treated with respect and dignity; there’s no inferior customer, and you should work to give them what you want within reason.

3. Data and insights are the best way to be different. So you have a good forecast, and you need to make the company money through your customers. What’s the best way to attract them to you? Your bright and cherry personality? Your good looks? Your wonderful smile? Your baritone pipes? Talking like you’re on old time radio? Try a more humble approach: data and perspective. You have storms moving through; they are threatening and strong. What do your customers want? They want to know where the storms are, where they are moving, and what impact they will have. Your shiny personality won’t save you; you need to know how to use radar (reflectivity, velocity, spectrum width, and all of the dual-pol products) and know the threats before the National Weather Service does. They want to know where power outages are. They want to know whether this is normal; that’s where your experience comes into play. They want to have minute-by-minute updates of what conditions are like; knowing where to find airport and local weather sensor data will enable you to tell your customers with confidence what is and isn’t happening. Knowing where to find field and model data that no one else can will give you an advantage over your competitors but will also inform your customers. Telling your customers is one thing; showing your customers is another. Are you getting that data that tells your weather story into your forecasting or weather presentation system? You should be. If you’re not, figure out how to make it happen! Learn and innovate!

4. Aggregate and organize data behind the scenes. This will save you a lot of time and enable you to focus more on what’s important. Programming will help you assemble model guidance and quality control it so you don’t have to waste time each day when you’re forecasting. Surprise! There’s an earthquake! Are you ready? How are you going to be a source of information to your customers? If they get valuable insight and information from someone else, you risk losing your reputation and credibility…and, more importantly, perhaps your job and company’s profitability.

5. Ask your customers want they want, and give them some of what they don’t. Let’s go back to that NBA game where you’re a point guard. What do your customers want? They want to be entertained! They want you to win the game, especially by a game-winning-buzzer-beating shot! But let’s say you’re not a big 3-point player; on occasion, take a 3-point shot. Your fans won’t be expecting it or even want you to take the long shot, but they will be happy if you make it. As a meteorologist, that means things like explaining vorticity at a very basic level and why it matters. It also means varying your style; take a dare to be different at least occasionally, even if your customers like a pattern.

6. Forecast specifically, and lead with what you know. Your customers can get a wishy-washy forecast for “a chance of storms today” from anywhere. Lemme guess; you have the word “details” in the tease to your forecast? Your customers have seen that. Give your customers an accurate forecast. Say “scattered showers and thunderstorms between 1pm and 7pm” with confidence. Some days, you’ll have models that are out to lunch. Tell the people what you know. When is the most likely time for rain? Can you say with confidence that the rain will be light? How would you describe the coverage, even if you’re a little off? What will happen, and what is to be determined? Don’t focus on potential or what won’t happen; focus on what is certain.

7. Don’t be a National Weather Service repeater. Be a meteorologist. If your prime responsibility is to just relay what the NWS says, you’re not using your degree in meteorology, and they are. You don’t need to tell your customers about every alert the NWS issues, including non-life-threatening alerts like Flood Advisories. If you feel that the National Weather Service is slow to the punch on an alert (or warning), tell your customers; you don’t need to wait for their blessing. They aren’t waiting for you, and you have the same degree (at least you should), so get movin’!

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8. The best starting forecast is the last shift’s forecast. It’s a lot easier to use the previous shift’s forecast as a starting point. Ask yourself: do I have justification to raise high temperatures 1° every day for the next 5 days. Think of your customers: do they care? Is it better to be consistent or forecast every shift not even considering the slew of model data the previous shift reviewed? Humble yourself, and recognize that there is value in your predecessors’ work. It’s also a lot less work to use the previous forecast as a starting point.

9. Don’t be so eager. If you’re willing to work turn-around shifts or go to work on a few hours of sleep, you’re likely too green. Don’t be a sucker. Say “no” at least occasionally. Do your job, and go home. Don’t get walked all over. If you’re working all of the holidays, weekend, and non-prime-time shifts, you’re getting the shaft. Over time, you should be advancing. You’ll look like on your “green years” and shake your head if you’re not careful.

10. Perspective requires research. When you’re going into a severe weather event, do you know the last time a tornado was confirmed in your area of responsibility? Do you know how rare an EF-2 or EF-4 tornado is for your area? When an insurance firm says that the damage caused by storms in your areas responsibility is estimated at $1 billion, does that seem right? If you’re expecting a high of 100°, are you prepared to answer questions from your customers about how often your area of responsibility sees a high of 100°? Regardless of what you do as a meteorologist, you need to provide perspective on weather events. Being a smiling face and personally won’t cover for you when you have to explain weather to your customers.

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11. Force yourself to get away from work. You can’t work all of the time. Time out some of your social media posts. Get a good significant other. Make friends. You need distractions from work or you’re going to burn yourself out. If you must post on social media during your days off, however, use your office tools to post data to a website where only you (or others, if you want) can grab it and post it; this is a good way to post your brand while not at work. Your job should only be a part of your life.

12. Be ready to move at any time. Whether you’re a National Weather Service meteorologist, a private sector meteorologist, or a broadcast meteorologist, it is highly likely you’re going to have to move during your time as a meteorologist. You’ll likely need to do it to advance. Suppose you’re in broadcasting, and you want to be a chief meteorologist. Do you think you’re going to get the job from your current chief when he or she leaves? That’s probably not going to happen. It does happen, but it’s not likely. It’s far more likely that you’re going to have to move to Omaha, Boise, San Antonio, or Huntsville to get your chief gig. And then you have to love that town and city and connect with it. Are you willing to do that? Now suppose you’re an NWS meteorologist and want to be a lead forecaster. Are you willing to move to North Platte, Nebraska to do that? You may have to. There aren’t a lot of meteorologist jobs in any given town, so if you want to advance in the industry, you’ll need to pack yourself or your family up and move at least once…and likely a few times before you’re in a semi-permanent spot. Going back to the earlier example, even the best NBA players got traded or went to a new team after a while.

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13. Corporate consolidation is not your friend. The modern way of doing big business – so it seems – is to buyout a company and collect their revenue while paying down the debt. Every good business, realistically, needs to monitor their cash flow (both revenues and costs) and increase profitability. One way to do this is to scale. If you stay with your company long enough, they will likely be bought. Even The Weather Channel got bought by IBM. The National Weather Service is likely exempt from this clause, but the broadcast and private sector will see this for years to come. When you get acquired, the rules change. Managers get fired and replaced with new ones. The expectations and demands of jobs are different. The culture changes, and – unfortunately – the ethics of your employer can change. If you don’t like your new company, there are a decreasing number of employers for which you can work (they are consolidating). If you leave Company A and go to Company B, there’s a chance Company A will buy Company B, and your soliloquy about “poor working conditions here at Company A” will come back to bite you. Leave on good terms as much as possible because the grass isn’t always greener and everyone is buying up land.

14. Ask yourself two questions frequently: “Do I enjoy doing this?” and “If not, how much longer am I going to do this?” When you first start in meteorology, you’re going to be bottom man or woman on the totem pole. You should be, but – in time – you should also advance. Unfortunately, some people don’t advance, and some – even worse – get demoted over time despite good performance. Meteorology and communication are inherently linked, and – despite what you may or may not know – companies often know who they want to communicate more than who they believe is the best meteorologist. With everyone marketing themselves as giving the “more accurate” forecast, companies need to position themselves to have an advantage. They will do that in any way possible. Your responsibilities may not be purely meteorology. Your schedule may be affected by what a company wants to do with you. You may be paired up with people that you like or don’t like. Your team may be great, or your team may not be great. Too few meteorologists regularly review their current situations and ask themselves if they are happy and successful. If you aren’t happy, set a time limit for how long you’re going to do what you’re doing. You’ll need to pay your dues early in the game, but you’ll also need to move on if you’re getting a raw deal.

15. Be careful what intellectual property you create for your company. If you’re not happy where you are, be mindful of what you’re building for your company. Do what is asked of you…but if you’re on your way out, don’t go sharing every idea you have or implementing new competitive advantage tools to make the company better. That idea you’re sharing or implementing may be the company’s once it leaves your lips. Instead, share your brainy ideas in a place and with a company that appreciates you and what you’re developing.

16. You aren’t ready for office politics, but you can and should learn them quickly. There is no high school or college course – that I know of – that prepares you for office politics. Careers in meteorology – like all forms of business – have politics. Companies put people where they want. Companies have their top picks and their bottom picks. You’ll have your days where you feel valued, and there will be other days when you feel very unimportant. Office politics is a complex game that you should not be a master at. Instead, I suggest distancing yourself from problematic people, not insulting others, and laying low. If you’re frustrated, don’t make a scene, and be respectful when solving problems. It is often better to be quieter and watch (and learn from) others who harm themselves and their career for fighting the law (and watching the law win).

17. There will always be someone younger than you who wants your job, and they will do it for less than you. It’s the truth. If you get greedy, companies will find someone else who will take less of a salary and fill your seat. Follow the trends of companies who hire meteorologists. Who are they moving and why? Who are they hiring and why? The trends will help you know whether you should stay or get out of the way.

18. The hardest thing to predict is human behavior. You will, however, be much better prepared if you look for clues and red flags constantly. Circling back around to the NBA player example above, being a basketball player is more than scoring points. You are part of a business, and if you aren’t giving what the business wants, your days are numbered. Understanding what the business wants you to do and mastering that goal is your number one job objective. Business needs, however, change…so you must be willing to listen, learn, and innovate. You must anticipate and monitor your company’s business goals and opportunities and prepare for them. If you’re the leagues best scorer, but the fans and business want close games to drive ratings and create a certain experience, you better strategize how and when you put points on the board. As a meteorologist, this means understanding your business, what they define as value, positioning yourself to fulfill the company’s goals.

Remember that most meteorologists that start their working life in meteorology usually end their working life in another field. It’s okay to evaluate your happiness and success frequently, and it’s okay to make a change. As long as you’re in meteorology, strive to stand out and be different in a positive way. Do they have “one of you?” If so, there’s a better fit for you elsewhere…or you should showcase a different talent. Michael Jordan wasn’t an actor, and he wasn’t in movies and getting endorsements because he was made for the big screen; he got the right kind of attention and he gave his customers want they wanted.

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Posted in Reflections, Weather | 1 Comment

People Problems: A Lesson Learned And Who Must Surround You

Do you ever take your work home with you? I encourage you to do just the opposite: take the lessons learned at home to work with you.

After a relaxing Friday night of watching people learn the basics of blacksmithing, I found myself with two challenges Saturday: blindsiding news of investment (apparently) made too early and a heavy, emotional conversation about repairs and future building. Just two days earlier with a friend in town, I found myself in a dense discussion on the quality of our mutual friendships. There are few reminders in life more humbling than those that expose what we can’t control. Yet I found myself today not just enjoying brunch and preparing for the week ahead but also coming across a well-needed and well-timed indication that we can control more than initially thought.

I went to church this morning, and I’ve recently make a change to go to Crossroads in Oakley. Today was only my second time being at Crossroads, but senior pastor Brian Tome shared a sermon and wisdom that we can all take to work and safely bring home, too.

When was the last time to looked at those around you? Where is the knowledge base for friendships and relationships? What are your core convictions about friendships and relationships? How do you choose your friends, who you associate with at work, and even where you work? Is your barometer calibrated correctly?

After all, we are who we spend time with. If you want to be the best version of you, you need to understand who surrounds you.

Brian Tome – in his sermon that I heard today – defines four groups of people around you: VDPs (Very Draining People), VNPs (Very Neutral People), VEPs (Very Energizing People), and VIPs (Very Important People). You deserve to have VEPs and VIPs be the centerpiece of your life.

You know a VDP when you see one:

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You react negatively to VDPs because they are negatively affecting your life. Advice you have for them is turned around back on you. Your time with them is not productive, and there is no learning. There is a negative feedback: VDPs’ attitude has a high transmissivity. Cosmetically appealing or not, they are not worth your time.

If a VDP is an overcast day, then a VNP is a mostly cloudy day. A company that is breaking even isn’t much better than a company that is losing money. When the goal is to have relationships that add value to our life, a VNP is still a loss. If names surface after asking these questions, it’s probably time to do some spring cleaning:

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I like the spirit of being a gift in someone’s life. Presence alone isn’t a present.

What does where you want to live look like? What does where you want to work look like? What characteristics do the people in those places have? VEPs should be there, and they should be there in abundance, too. You’ll know you’re in good company when they add value to your life or they surface on this list:

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These people are your top-shelf peers who you connect with and make your life better. There are those, however, who are there to not just help and guide you, but they are also there to build, grow, and sacrifice for you. You need at least a couple of VIPs nearby:

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The VIPs are there to not just celebrate your life, but they actively make it better and are rarely if ever not willing to make you healthier, wiser, smarter, and more successful. Alternatively, you have the same or similar obligation to them.

Your friendships and relationships will drive the joy, happiness, and success of your life – at least in part – so it’s best to get good company around you. Filling your life with VEPs and VIPs is paramount to your success at home and work. You must also work to eliminate VDPs and VNPs from your life and world; let them go for – if nothing else – your own peace. VDPs and VNPs may return to your life, but they are not worth your time if they have no potential or intent to become a VEP or VIP quickly. Before this work begins, though, you must learn to question the relationships and friendships you have and identify the VDPs, VNPs, VEPs, and VIPs.

If you find yourself in a swarm of VDPs and VNPs, it’s time to move forward elsewhere. If you find your work environment making you into a VDP or VNP, it’s also a signal that you must move on.

Structure relates to function, and you can’t afford to sink to the level of being a VDP or VNP.

Who enters the room and immediately makes you smile? Who has sacrificed for you to make sure you were taken care of? Who is a blessing in your life and works to make you better? Answering these questions are paramount your success and your ability to make others successful.

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Why You Don’t Need Regular, Granular Forecast Updates

I woke up this morning to find the weather chatter centering on rain to snow from Monday night and Tuesday. Depending on what computer forecast model you believe, there’s also the potential for snow later this week, this weekend, and the start of the following week. How much snow and when? What will the impacts be on all of these rounds of precipitation? What about that shot of very cold air coming later this week? Then, as a I reached for my first sip of coffee, I saw this:

This tweet invites several questions about you, but mainly: how often do you – the customer – need forecast updates, on what, and why? This tweet also invites a lot of questions about me, meteorologists, and other forecasters, but mainly: after a review of the data, what do I need to share about the forecast while also being responsible, and what do my customers want?

As a meteorologist, I can confirm there is a lot of computer guidance out there. There are American models, European models, Canadian models, short-range models, long-range models, and even models that attempt to predict what the radar will look like in 15-minute increments. You could spend all day looking at guidance, but the benefit in reviewing all of this information is a forecast, or the best theory on what will actually happen.

The cold, hard reality is that customers don’t need to review all of this guidance. That is the job of a meteorologist. But not all meteorologists feel that way; some have become “model regurgitators.” They will give you a forecast, sure; they will also tell you what every single model run says along the way.

Let me give you an example of how this process plays out using one computer model runs over time. Here are recent 24-hour “snowfall” projections ending at 7am Friday from the GFS model:

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Each snapshot here shows a “projection” (I put that in quotes because nearly all computer forecast models don’t directly forecast snow, so this is reality raw computer data with human logic that may or may not be correct layered on top of the data to get to a snow amount) from the GFS model. Each of these runs has different inputs of different quality. So which one of these models is right? If you watch the animation for long enough, you’ll see snowy runs and snow-less runs…and eventually you’ll realize that this model is not very consistent. This happens more often than you think.

Let’s go back to that potential for snow Monday night, and let’s see what type of precipitation the GFS “thinks” will be occurring (again, I’m using quotes here because the GFS doesn’t directly forecast what type of precipitation will occur at a given time. A human logic layer is applied here). Here’s the GFS computer projection for 10pm Monday night:

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What type of precipitation will be occurring in Cincinnati at this time? Blue is snow, and green is rain. Well…this is complex. More recent runs are faster with line of precipitation and quicker to change over to snow, but we can’t ignore the fact that some recent GFS model runs suggest rain is more likely. We could broad-brush this and say “rain and snow to snow Monday night” (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but time matters when we’re talking snow. A rate multiplied by time will get you to a snow total. I just posted output from one model here, but the job of a meteorologist is to evaluate all model data, outcomes, and trends then make a forecast on what will happen. This means there is little to no value in posting model data for customers to review unless the meteorologist believes that model data is correct. This also means sharing what each model run “says” as it comes in is pointless.

So why is this happening? I have some theories:

  1. Some meteorologists and forecasters want attention, likes, and shares, and they will share model output to get that attention. The concept of “involving the customer in the process” or “bring them along for the ride” is merely a grab for attention. This can easily be countered by saying “I’m informing my customers,” but you can inform them with a forecast, not an attention-grabbing, knee-jerk, likely conflicting series of updates.
  2. It’s easy or at least becoming easier for meteorologists to share attention-getting weather headlines. Computer graphic machines can print out a snow amount for a city from a given model run to the tenth of an inch out to 5-7 days. Find a model run that generates extreme temperatures, severe weather, or big snow…and you’ve got a social media hit and a watercooler conversation.
  3. Meteorologists and forecasters (including non-meteorologists who have access to raw model data and maps) who gather significant attention for their extreme scenario posts often – over time – get an increasing market share, often drowning out those who are advertising more reasonable, modest, or less extreme scenarios. This often fuels misinformation about weather systems and the misconception that “meteorologists are always wrong.” Just because one forecaster cries wolf doesn’t mean they all do.
  4. Many forecasters lack the experience or education to evaluate model data and forecast the weather. Anyone can make a forecast or post maps, but making an accurate, detailed forecast requires skill. Unfortunately, extreme scenarios – or at least the risk of an extreme scenario occurring – will often win out over the voice of reason. In other words, the source of the forecast (or even raw computer output) doesn’t matter.
  5. Forecasts – partly as a function of inexperience in those who forecast or share computer guidance – are becoming increasingly wishy-washy. There’s a “chance” of extreme weather this week. Snow of 0-10″ is “possible” later this week. A temperature of -5° is scary, but a wind chill of -25° is even scarier. That wind chill could become -30° tonight…check back for updates! It is possible it could get worse! And that potential keeps many hanging on.
  6. The potential for significant weather often surfaces 5-10 days out. That means you’ll be strung along with “updates” for 5-10 days on one or more significant weather events. The scenarios could range from good to bad to worse, and you’ll likely see the scenarios change every 12 hours. There’s a lot of whiplash in the model world, so why are you being taken along for the ride? More importantly, why do you want to be along for the ride?

I’ve had a long standing concern in meteorology: the specifics of the forecast usually don’t matter. Here are some 7 day forecasts from Los Angeles TV stations:

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So…a high of 76° and 78° today, and a high of 73° or 74° tomorrow. What’s the real difference here? Does it matter where you get your forecast from the next five days here? It doesn’t. It makes absolute sense that you get it the forecast from the easiest accessible place because there’s no significant difference between these forecasts. Additionally, there’s no need to check back for updates because if tomorrow’s high goes to 75°, who cares?

If there’s no risk for inconveniencing or hazardous weather in the next 24 hours, it doesn’t really matter where you get a forecast from. There are few weather scenarios (i.e. a blizzard, tornado outbreak) where you need to know what the forecast looks like beyond 24 hours. If you check your phone at noon to see what temperatures look like this afternoon and evening and you don’t see anything inconveniencing, that’s about all you need to do weather-wise for the rest of the day. If the forecast temperature for 8pm changes from 45° to 43°, was getting that update worth your time?

The best comparison I can make to this logic is like that of a sandwich shop. Let’s say you’re meeting a coworker for lunch 5 days from now. In reality, you just want a sandwich to be made when you get there. I believe it’s highly likely that you just want a sandwich to be there when you’re ready to eat 5 days from now; you’re not concerned with supply chain logistics, whether there will be a manager present at the store, whether the heater in the building will be working, and whether their shipment of meat and veggies will arrive at 4pm or 5pm on Thursday. I suspect you won’t be calling the sandwich shop every day until you meet your friend for lunch just to make sure everything is on track to get your sandwich. If the sandwich shop had a social media account, I don’t think you’d fine them posting about when their shipment of meat arrived at the dock, when their employees clocked in, and what temperature the thermostat is set at; even if they posted about this, you likely wouldn’t care.

Just like the sandwich, you just want a forecast. You go to a source of information that suggests what is going to happen. I suspect you aren’t going to a webpage and comparing what 5 different computer models say about the timing of precipitation and what the temperature will be for each hour in the next 5 days. I suspect you don’t care what the NAM model trend for the last 5 days has been, or what the median accumulation amount is from the latest SREF model. You just want the sandwich.

When you go to the doctor, you just want to hear his or her diagnosis. When you go to a mechanic, you just want to hear what the recommended repairs are and the associated costs. When your manager at work asks you to turn in a report, you don’t staple a separate sheet with your mathematical calculations to the report.

So why do it with weather? If it’s not a inconveniencing in the next 24 hours, go out and live your life. Forecast accuracy increases dramatically within 24 hours of active weather, so you might as well save your interest for that window and not go “along for the ride” on a computer model wild goose chase for days.

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The Things They Never Told Me: An Open Letter To Penn State And Campus Weather Service Students

To The Students Of Penn State University And The Campus Weather Service:

Odds are good you have no idea who I am, but I was once like you. I graduated from Penn State 11 years ago with a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Penn State. I was a member of the Campus Weather Service. I was both on camera and worked behind the scenes at Weather World. I learned a lot at Penn State just like you, and I really enjoyed my last two years there.

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I worked in broadcast meteorology for 10 and 1/2 years. I worked in three different cities, and I’ve worked just about every shift there is. I interned every summer during college (once for the National Weather Service and twice at two different Cincinnati TV stations). Additionally, I had a path to a career with the National Weather Service, but the opportunity just wasn’t right for me. I’ve recently earned an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from Xavier University and work into the business world now as an analyst.

I tell you these things not to brag or boast but to tell you some things I wish I would have known 10 years ago about meteorology and give you a frame of reference. No one sat me down and told me how the meteorology industry works or the good and bad within it. When you’re focused on differential equations, atmospheric dynamics, finding a job, and having a social life…it’s easy to not have a focus on your career or what the next 10 years look like. I’m here to offer some advice with that.

I’ve come up with 15 things you need to know about the future, and they are all important. What I say may not carry a lot of weight with you because you’ve never heard it or experienced it before; take a leap of faith that what I say is more right than it is wrong. Let’s talk.

  1. Your #1 goal in your life and career is to be happy and successful. Happy and successful. Happy and successful. Happy AND successful. It’s so important that it requires repeating. You should always be or be working to be happy and successful. If the job offer you got doesn’t make you happy and successful, don’t accept it. If your first job doesn’t make you happy and successful, move on as soon as possible. If any aspect of your life doesn’t make you happy and successful, it’s time to move on.
  2. Study who is advancing and succeeding in meteorology and figure out why that is. When I graduated from Penn State, the boss of my first job said he hired me because I was a Penn State graduate, and he thought it was a good school for meteorology. What got me my second job? Being a Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout helped me stand out. What got me my third job? The fact that I interned with my supervisor, and he liked the quality of my presentations and interest in data. Fast forward a couple of years into my third job, and I found myself wanting to advance. I saw people in my industry with half of my experience getting higher-exposure, more senior, and better paying jobs…and I wasn’t moving. I thought that my experience and education would be helpful to advancing.

    Until I started an MBA, I didn’t really get business. When you graduate from Penn State with a meteorology degree, you don’t know much if anything about business, and this is unfortunate. Thankfully, I can give you some insight. Successful companies create value for their customers. They do so by having a competitive advantage, and hopefully it’s a sustainable competitive advantage (one that other companies can’t replicate). Companies also care about profit, which is revenue (income) minus costs. How do companies make more profit? They either increase their revenue or decrease their costs. This helps retain their shareholders, stakeholders, and investors (people that own stock or a share of the company and expect a return on their investment).

    So let’s jump back to meteorology and the companies that depend on meteorologists. Take your pick on which vertical you want. Government, public, or private sector? It doesn’t matter. Now assume you’re the boss at one of these companies. Your investors want you to make more profit every year. You can only increase your revenue so much; your budget is only so big. You can cut costs, and you may even be incentivized by your company to cut costs. How can I cut costs? Salaries take up a big part of the budget, so maybe you look there. Experienced employees cost more, and less experienced employees cost less. Is it worth getting people with less experience? Some bosses will say yes, and others will say no. What kinds of people are willing to work for less? Really think about this question, then go back to the original question: why are the people who are advancing actually advancing? What about them gives them a leg up? Then look at yourself against this crowd. Can you have their same success? Can you get the education or knowledge they have…or is it something you can’t change? I remember getting advanced to a second round of a National Weather Service job years ago. I called the meteorologist-in-charge of the office, and he told me I wasn’t likely to get the job because he had two military veterans in the list of candidates. Could I realistically be a military veteran? I couldn’t…at least not easily. Perhaps there were other candidates who – after interviews – were willing to take a lower salary, and I wouldn’t have gotten the job (all veteran qualifications aside). The moral of the story here is that some people advance and get jobs for the right reasons, and some people get jobs for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you won’t get the job even if you’re the most qualified candidate.

  3. METEO 473 is the most important class you’ll take at Penn State. Remember that course you took on processing weather data and transforming it into an analysis? That’s the most important class you take at Penn State. Pick any large company that doesn’t employ meteorologists. If you’re struggling, think of Google, Macy’s, Apple, or Microsoft. These companies spend MILLIONS if not BILLIONS of dollars each year in research and development on products and services. You know what they use to make decisions? Data. Now go back to meteorology and rope in the comments I made about sustainable competitive advantage above. What are YOU going to do to stand out? Present the temperature map with a brighter and bubblier personally than anyone else? Please. Present the same information that everyone else has access to from a vendor? Please. You’re going to stand out because of what you can do with data. You could present the mold and pollen count, but can you automate a process to ingest that data into a computer so you can save time and avoid the potential for typos? Can you predict what tomorrow’s pollen and mold count will be. You can do a statistical analysis on it. Use a linear regression, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is. To stand out, you have to know where to find data that few can find, know how to process it and automate processes, and predict what others can’t. If you don’t know how to get the data you want, figure it out, and don’t give up!
  4. Stop looking like everybody else and be different. One of the worst parts about meteorology today is that everybody looks the same. Here’s your forecast, right?
    jan21-blog-tempsjan21-blog-radarjan21-blog-7day
    I would guess the phrases “good morning”, “those/these temperatures”, “just a few showers”, “weekend is always in view”, and other cliche phrases are peppered throughout the presentation. BORING. When you’re learning to present the weather, you shouldn’t be emulating other meteorologists and just learning to do what they do. You should be learning to talk about the weather in your own words with confidence. What are YOU going to present that isn’t just the same thing as everyone else in town? What’s your trademark? As I stated above, data and analysis is your best and easiest way to stand out.
  5. Minimize your “greenness”. I get it. You’re in college and soon to be entering the workforce. You’re excited. You want to leave out the dream of being a meteorologist. You’ve followed the weather since you were a kid. You’re wanting to hit the ground running, and you’ve got ideas. But don’t be a sucker. Of course your boss wants you to work all of the time and give 150%, especially if it’s not costing your boss a dime. As you get older and especially as you have more commitments (a significant other, a family, a child, etc.), you’ll see the importance of a work-life balance. You don’t want to spend your life at work. Talk to your parents or older mentors about limiting their time at work before you start working. Meteorology is already a industry that essentially requires you to look at the weather when you’re not working. 40 hours a week of meteorology is plenty, especially if part of it is spent in the cold, heat, or elements.
  6. When you graduate, you don’t have to go into meteorology. No one actually tells you this, but you don’t have to take a job in meteorology. You can do whatever you want for a career. A meteorology degree gives you many important life and career skills, including – but not limited to – critical thinking, problem solving, ability to use technology, and programming. Those are the skills you need to get just about any good job. You can market those skills and get into a lot of industries.
  7. The hours of meteorology suck and will have an impact on your life. You may have heard people complain about how “boring” 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday jobs are; I suspect those people have never worked the shifts that a meteorologist does. National Weather Service meteorologists that aren’t in management work different shifts; in other words, you may work overnights one day, evenings for another shift, midday for another shift, and then mornings through early afternoons for another shift. If you work in television and do weekday mornings, you’re likely up at 1-2am five days a week. If you’re working evenings in television, you’re in at 2pm and out just before midnight. If you’re working weekends in TV, your schedule is all over the place; in fact, many weekend meteorologists in TV work all of the morning and evening shifts. As a college student, it is highly likely that you have never had a job that required you to work crazy hours, so you don’t know the impacts it will have. The idea of working the weekday morning shift looks easy, but it will wear on you. Doing double shifts or early morning shifts isn’t too taxing on your body if you only do it a couple of days or even a week. After about two weeks, you’ll be tired. After a month, you’ll be exhausted. After 5 years of doing it (like I did), you’ll likely have health effects. You can cope with coffee and naps, but these are coping mechanisms. Coffee plus an unsettled mind due to getting up in the middle of the night don’t mix well. Your lack of sleep day after day becomes a compound issue; being tired one day makes you more tired the next, and after months and years of doing this, your mental and physical health easily slide. Now layer on the other pieces of life. You’re taking your personal time to nap. You’re tired, so will you make it to the gym? Now say you’re married with kids; you’re going to tell your your significant other and kids you have to go to bed at 5pm or work holidays and weekends? They won’t fully understand your shift or what it’s doing to you, and yet you’re still expected to be there and alert for your family.
  8. Advancing in meteorology often requires moving. This may not be a problem for you, but suppose you take a job then can’t advance. You may have signed a contract with a no-compete clause, so you can’t just work across the street. That means you’ll have to move. Then say you want to work a better schedule in a couple of years. Can you just advance to the new schedule you want because you are the best forecaster statistically? It doesn’t work like that. You’ll have to move. Then suppose your new employer is grooming you for a better job, but then you realize it requires going to a new town. At some point, you’re going to have to ask yourself: is it worth all of this moving? Moving often means finding new friends and moving your family along with you.
  9. Meteorology is a better hobby than it is a career. Meteorology is a public facing job. You get to tell everyone the weather. That means everyone, including the worst of the worst and the best of the best. When you forecast 2-4″ of snow, there will be trolls ready to say they got 4.1″ and “it must be nice to be wrong 70% of the time and keep your job.” Also, forecasting the weather is like drinking from a fire hose. There’s an endless supply of models to review, and you have to make decisions that impact people’s lives. It’s a lot to take on, and there will always be grief. Some people are mean; if you’re in the public eye, some will make fun of your looks, some will insult your knowledge, and some will even attack your race, weight, or gender. You can look at models all you want working out of the weather industry and without the attacks. Plus, how long do you want to spend your mornings, nights, weekends, and holidays away from your family? How long do you want to work in the cold, snow, heat, and other weather elements? Regardless of where you work, you have to think about how your job will impact the quality of your life.
  10. Be careful from whom you take advice. If your mentor is young and inexperienced, they likely haven’t been in meteorology long. You want to talk to mentors to have been in their business for many, many years. They have seen a few things. They’ve worked the shifts, they’ve seen people fired on the spot, and they’ve seen the industry trends play out. People that have been in the business a long time get “the long game.” Also, be careful getting your advice from senior or chief meteorologists that have been in their position for a long time. A chief meteorologist that has been in his or her spot for a long time likely hasn’t worked the more physically demanding early morning or “doubles on the weekend” shifts…or at least remember working them…or did the shift before the layers of mutli-platform demands.
  11. You’ll probably have to get a masters degree down the road. This is not what you want to hear with building student debt, but you’ll probably have to get another degree in the future. I don’t know of a company with meteorologists that will pay for you to get a masters degree, so you’ll likely have to pay for this degree out of pocket. Why do I say you’ll need a masters degree? Because if you want pivot to another career, you’ll likely need to prove to your future employer that you’re qualified and “not a meteorologist.” The National Weather Service also wants the best candidates, and your education matters and increases your odds of getting hired. Budget accordingly, and pace yourself.
  12. Research your employers extensively. Before you sign on the dotted line for a job, you should research your employer. What kind of company are they? What’s the culture there?  What are employees saying about the company? Have they recently gotten in trouble or hot water? Are they ethical? Are they fair? Do they treat their employees well? Do your research so you work for the right employer. Know that your employer may also be acquired or merge with another company. As news of that breaks, research the acquiring company. If they aren’t a good fit, it’s time to move on.
  13. Your looks may matter. It’s not right, it’s not okay, but it’s reality. If you’re in a public-facing role, your “beauty” comes into play. I’m not here to judge you, but some will. You’re far more likely to be judged based on your looks than forecast accuracy.
  14. Your opportunity cost may be better outside of meteorology. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. Suppose you go into meteorology. What’s the average salary of a meteorologist in their first job? I remember getting an offer to work as a broadcast meteorologist in the Midwest for $18,500 a year. As a college student, that may seem like a lot, but that’s not a lot of money. The poverty line for a single person is $12,140. I didn’t take that offer, but know that it takes a while to make a great salary in meteorology.Now consider a career in business or another field. What’s the average salary for a business person in their first job? It’s likely higher than a career in meteorology. Either way, you have to research. It’s not all about money either; which path gives you want you want in life faster?
  15. Your dream changes, not ends. Being a meteorologist is a dream, but the odds that you change careers in your life is high. You need to be prepared for change. People lose their jobs or get fired. What are you going to do if that happens? You likely have rent and loans to pay. How are you going to pay your debts? You’ll want job security once you have a job, especially if you have a family. Do you get your forecast on your smartphone or TV? If not, how many of your friends do? This should tell you about trends in meteorology, where people are getting their forecast, and how much people care about the quality of forecasts. Don’t ride out the storm until it ends; make moves before the storm hits.

I hope you find what I say relevant and beyond what others have told you. I encourage you to think a lot about your career choices, who you want to work for, who you don’t want to work for, and what will – above all else – make you happy and successful.

Warmly,

Scott Dimmich

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Meteorologists Need To Be Data Scientists And Programmers. Their Future Depends On It.

Data is really, really important to any business that matters. Data is being used to not just get a heartbeat on what customers are buying and using; it’s being used to drive decisions within the business. As I highlighted yesterday, companies are spending large amount of money (and their profits!) to better understand their customers’ behavior and purchasing profile.

Alternatively, meteorology requires quality data. Looking at surface, radar, satellite, and upper-level trends is a very valuable part of creating a forecast, but it will only take you so far…perhaps 12 hours into the future in some but not all situations. Computer guidance is needed to make forecasts that are longer-term. Knowing where severe storms will develop, where that hurricane will go, and how much snow will accumulate requires data and an understanding of it.

Meteorology isn’t a rewarding science unless the results are shared with many; there is little value in knowing where a storm will go and what impact it will have if only you know what the forecast is. If emergency managers, state officials, and the public know where the tornado is moving and what impacts a city will get from a tropical system, the information is far more valuable and can be used to make and inform other decisions.

Unfortunately, meteorologists can’t just download their analysis and knowledge into other people’s heads. The world would be a much smarter, better place (I hope) if we could freely exchange information and insight by installing it directly in a brain…but that isn’t the case. This requires a meteorologist to communicate their insights, conclusions, recommendations, and the data that supports all of these decisions. The conclusions, recommendations, and insights are valuable, but people and decision makers want to see the data for themselves to make sense of it.

The best meteorologists I know use quality data to tell a quality story. With so many options to get a forecast, it’s important to stand out; this unique story requires unique data. So why do so many meteorologists struggle with getting this unique data?

I want to emphasize the word “unique” here. Radar data is everywhere. Satellite data is everywhere. Model data is everywhere. Forecasts are everywhere. I’ve seen the National Hurricane Center’s track of the hurricane, and odds are good most have, too. Basically, if all or most of the weather communicators have access to or use the information, it’s not unique and people have no reason or incentive to choose one source over another.

So let’s go back to the question: why do meteorologists struggle with getting unique data? As someone that knows a fair amount about statistics, data, computers, and weather…programming is difficult. To be a successful programmer, you – among other things – must know:

  1. Where to get the data
  2. How to scrape or gather the data
  3. Format and quality control the data
  4. Know the tools to process and analyze the data
  5. Output the data or insights into a specific format

This process is not easy. There’s a lot weather data out there, and there are many meteorology-specific and non-meteorology-specific tools out there. These tools have a learning curve, and these tools take time to learn.

Secondly, finding the source of the data takes skill, time, and patience.

Let’s look at this problem. What does weather impact? How about rivers? Here’s a recent forecast for the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, South Carolina:

sep11-blog-rivers

This is a helpful plot of information. It shows past, current, and forecast observations with tide information embedded. As I write this blog, Hurricane Florence is nearing the Carolinas, so flooding and river flooding information is even more valuable. So if I’m in the weather communication world, how do I share this information with my customers? I could screengrab it and share it out, but my bosses may not be happy with NOAA’s brand all over that data.

On the page where I pulled this data, there is an XML and RSS link to the underlying data in the plot above. Within the XML and RSS link, there are observed and forecast data points and corresponding times. We can download this raw data, process it, and export it to a weather communication computer system. So how do we get the data from where is it to where we want it? The answer is: figure it out! Don’t get defeated, don’t get overwhelmed, don’t get angry; instead, research:

  1. What programming languages read and process XML and RSS data
  2. How to use those languages to write code and transform the input data into desired output data
  3. The ways to automate the process.

Next, you have to take the output and use it as an input for your weather communication computer system. That’s where your knowledge of the latter gets used to finish the project and tell a unique weather story.

What else is impacted by weather? Power outages, air quality, river levels, road conditions, and more. Those who source the data (power companies, air quality agencies, etc.) typically publish their data in some form to the Internet. So how do you get that data from their final source to your final source? The answer is: figure it out! You can do this, but you have to have the passion, energy, and time to make it happen. It’s important to note that extra time to make a unique product today may save you a lot of time in the future.

Before you think that you can’t get information from that weather-related data website, you can. If you can get it in a browser, you can get the data. You just have to try harder to get it and transform it.

The ultimate goal here, as I alluded to in my blog post from yesterday, is to create a sustainable competitive advantage and cross-promote your product. If you own product A and B, you tell people on Product A to get a unique forecast on Product B, and you tell people on Product B to get a unique forecast on Product A, you’re likely to keep your company happy while also giving your company value.

Need an example of this in action? Try this:

This WTOL-TV’s real-time school delay and closing map. That’s data from an external source (a school closing/delay crawl system or the backend where schools districts report their delays) being inputted into a broadcast machine and colorized/formatted in the machine’s software. There is no doubt in my mind there is (automated) programming here to both export and import the data from one system to the next and to convert the output of one source to an input for another system. This is impressive work, and this is the only place I know that can show this type of data to customers! This took programming, weather communication system, and local school district knowledge plus time, effort, and – perhaps most importantly – passion.

This tweet from Ryan Hoke at WAVE-TV in Louisville, Kentucky shows rainfall data from Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District rain gauges. The data is freely available here. You could import the data straight into Microsoft Excel (which is NOT a programming tool!) and export it out, but there is likely programming going on in the background here to parse the table of rainfall totals. How did Ryan made this map? He saw the challenge, and he figured it out! It’s not incredibly easy to pull this data; some websites have easy access to data, and this site is not one of them. But you can do it!

These are two (rare) examples of importing unique weather-related data into a weather communications system. The company brand is intact, and the freely (well, seemingly) available data is natively flowing into a system where data is shared. This process took a lot of time, effort, passion, patience, and perseverance…but these data can now be promoted, cross-promoted among platforms, and used in real-time to inform the masses.

But wait; there’s more. You can archive this data and leverage of the power of statistics to model out river levels, air quality numbers, and power outages. I know it can be done because I’ve done it.

As I write this blog post, Hurricane Florence is moving west towards North and South Carolina, prompting people to fill up and move inland. Here’s an impactful tweet:

If you dig hard enough on the Internet, you can find the raw data for this map and bring it into a weather communications system. What a great weather story element!

You have to work hard if you want to tell a better story than everyone else. If customers see value in your product, they will come to you to get that value. But there’s a downside: if you look like everyone else, have the same data as everyone else, and tell the same story as everyone else…you’ll have the same market share as everyone else and be as valuable as everyone else.

The ability to program and use data to drive business decisions and profitability is becoming more important every day. If you can’t leverage weather data to your advantage, your potential as a meteorologist is severely capped.

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Weather Communications Has A Problem And Business Thinking Can Fix It

As a meteorologist, a weather communicator, and someone to aims to be humble, I’ve come to accept and respect that the weather community has a critical issue that needs to be addressed. As a businessperson, I see business problems being solved daily, but I also see a solution to the mounting weather communications problem.

This problem is better shown than explained. It’s worth noting that there is a lot of great weather communication out there, and I’m not going to target specific people or companies as much as the product itself. To show this example, I will use New York City, a place I have never worked and with weather communications companies for which I have never worked.

As I write this, Hurricane Florence is a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s what the New York City NBC affiliate has to say recently:

When I read this, I think to myself:

“What is the ‘breakdown’ coming up? You just gave me the whole forecast. Why do I need a breakdown?”
“What’s on the app that I can’t get here? You just gave me the current conditions of the storm and earlier you tweaked out the track.”
“What are the latest updates? When are these updates coming? Didn’t you just tell me 95% of what I need to know about the approaching hurricane?”

Here’s some of what CBS in New York has to say:

The screaming message here is it will be a cloudy, wet, breezy day in New York. But I’m left with the following questions:

“I could get this on my smart phone now. Why do I need to see your communication that takes up more than a minute of my time?”
“You just told me what was going to happen today. Why do you need to tell me again?”
“There’s a lot of information about others, but I just want the information about me.”

Here’s some of what ABC in New York has to say:

Again, I’ve grabbed some tweets that showcase local warnings, a snapshot of current conditions, and a link to a website where Florence is likely heading…but I’m left with the following questions:

“When is the greatest risk here and south of here from Hurricane Florence?”
“How is Florence going to impact me?”
“You showed me it’s raining now. When is it going to stop?”
“I see the radar and the warning. Where can I go for more information?”

There are other weather communicators out there talking about New York, and here are some of those tweets:

This is just a sampling of tweets (from Twitter). People can follow and trust who they wish, people can get weather from other social media sources, they can get weather information from non-social media sources, or they can – to be honest – live their live without getting informed on the weather at all.

As someone who used to work as a meteorologist (and still is one per my degree) but now works in business, I see the communications problem more clearly now.

Among other things, successful businesses have:
– A product or service people want to buy or use
– New products and services over time to create growth
– Profitability, especially if it’s increasing
– Good leaders, ethics, goals, and boundaries
– Create unique value, especially compared to others
– Have competitive advantages, especially sustainable competitive advantages

I would argue that the last three are perhaps the most important in business. What good is a company without leadership, growth, a bright future, and a moral compass? What good is a business without giving something valuable to customers? And what good is a company that has a product or service that others can easily replicate and scale?

Corporations in this country spend BILLIONS of dollars each year to gather insights about their customers that create value and generate sustainable competitive advantages. I work at one of those companies; every day, I look to create a unique product or service – either externally or internally – that gives the company for which I work value and advantage.

I think Kroger (the grocer) is one of the smartest companies out there. They bring groceries you buy to the store, sure…but that’s not half of the value. They were among the first to give you an incentive to have a shopper’s card; they got your information and purchasing profile, and you get discounts and free items. They give you an incentive to download and use their app; they get your information and additional purchase profile data, and you get access to coupons that you don’t have to carry around the store. Kroger also sends you coupons in the mail to incentivize you to go to the store. They have ClickList that, for a fee, has someone shop for you…and you just pick up the groceries outside of the store; the value proposition here is to save time. Then there’s fuel points: you earn them when you spend money at the store. When you’ve collected enough points, you get a discount on fuel at one of their gas stations. Plus, you get extra fuel points when you buy certain items – like gift cards – in the store. They have a large selection of “store brands” in their stores to save you more over name brands.

Kroger isn’t the only one with good ideas, but they have a value stream. They know how to get you in the store, to the gas pump, using their app, and using their services. They make money not because they create value for you, but also because they have many ways to get your money and connect the value from one place they own to another.

Amazon Prime is similar. You pay for Prime and get free shipping, but they also give you free streaming services, too. Other business have big time value, but the goal here – if you’re a business – is to make money ethically and fairly in as many places as possible and have a value stream that others can’t (easily) replicate.

I tell you all of this to highlight the weather communication problem: there is very little sustainable competitive advantage in weather communication right now. ABC, NBC, and CBS in New York (above) didn’t just give the same or similar forecast; they also:

– Have the same look and color scheme
– Have no information I can’t get on a free/ad-free smartphone app, from Alexa, or on the Internet
– Largely lack a link to easily get additional valuable information
– Largely lack a call to action or impact
– Don’t cross-promote
– Don’t incentivize

The other weather tweets :

– Largely lack a link to easily get additional valuable information (or don’t motivate)
– Largely lack a call to action or impact
– Take a significant amount of time to read or process
– Lack the locality of weather
– Don’t incentivize
– Don’t cross-promote

Marketing a weather forecast has accurate or the most accurate will only take you so far when convenience and value are in play. When all horses in the race run the same, the results will be the same. All of the above groups lack differentiation or sustainable competitive advantages.

New York isn’t the only place where this is an issue, and Twitter isn’t the only place where the problem occurs. So how do we beat the lack of differentiation, sustainable competitive advantages, and incentivization? With differentiation, sustainable competitive advantages, and incentivization, of course!

Weather communicators need to create forecasts, products, and services that no one else can easily create and can cross-promote. The “face” or “person” of reliability and accuracy is dying at the successes of convenience, the discovery of a more “reliable” source (perceived or real), and the fact that seemingly “all forecasts look the same, so any weather update is fine for me.”

Whether it’s power outages, river impacts, business closings, school closings, or some other proprietary forecasts/information and a way to communicate that forecast and drive people to that forecast and drive people to other forecasts on other places within the same brand, what unique value is the weather communication community giving customers?

Meteorologists and weather forecasters need to start thinking like a businessperson. If billion dollar companies are investing billions in creating value and finding a sustainable competitive advantage…why isn’t the weather community working to figure out what their customers want and create the intellectual property to give customers something they can’t get anywhere else?

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An Open Letter To Miami University & Its President: Please Share Your Airport Weather Station Data

To Miami University and President Crawford:

I have great respect for Miami University. I applied to your MBA program in late 2015 because I have great respect for your business program. My mother is a three time graduate of your school – a bachelors and two masters degrees in education – so I was raised to respect Miami University. I have been to your campus, and it is beautiful. I was there a couple of years ago to visiting your geothermal plant; as a meteorologist and someone who cares for the environment, it is wonderful to see a university not only take steps to become more sustainable and green but also improve their image through actions over words.

While I recognize your primary focus as a university – as your mission statement highlights – is to have an “unwavering commitment to liberal arts undergraduate education and the active engagement of its students in both curricular and co-curricular life,” your university is among a select few in our area to have an own and airport. It’s 3 miles west of campus and 2 miles west of downtown Oxford:

jun4-blog-oxd

It’s a very convenient airport for those who want quick access to the university by airplane. With the drive being 56 minutes from CVG and 62 minutes from the Dayton International Airport, it’s ideally located between two major airports and two large cities.

I’m certain you know of this airport, but what you may not know is that there is a valuable piece of equipment sitting just north of your runway:

jun4-blog-oxdawos

That fenced in area (with a path leading to it) contains an AWOS – or Automated Airport Weather Station. It’s actually one of the nicer ones out there. More formally known an AWOS III P/T, it can measure and report barometric pressure, altimeter settings for pilots, wind speeds and directions, the temperature, the dewpoint, visibility, sky conditions, cloud coverage, liquid precipitation amounts, precipitation types, and the direction of thunderstorms relative to the airport. This equipment creates valuable information for pilots but also to meteorologists.

This piece of equipment isn’t cheap. While the cost of these varies depending on what an airport wants, can afford, whether they can get nearby parts, and the year purchased, an article in The Leader-Herald in Gloversville, New York from 2017 claims a local airport manager purchased an AWOS for $240,000. I have heard costs for an AWOS closer to $70,000 or “above $100,000.” Regardless, the AWOS at your airport came at a significant cost to the university. Additionally, there are variable costs associated with keeping the AWOS up and running, including electricity to the system and replacement parts.

When I returned home and first started working in the Tri-State as a meteorologist in 2011, I began researching and understanding the processes that allow weather data to flow into various systems, including to the National Weather Service. In the years that followed, I worked with local airport managers to see if funding could be secured to share their weather station data out with the world by using a vendor. I am thankful that the Warren County, Ohio Airport; the Clermont County, Ohio Airport; the Fleming-Mason, Kentucky Airport; the Madison, Indiana Airport; the Fayette County, Ohio Airport; and the Batesville, Indiana Airport have all started sharing their airport weather station data with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through a vendor. We have more local weather data than ever before.

But we don’t have the Miami University Airport’s weather station data. I believe it was 2013 when I first reached out to your airport manager about sharing your weather station data. He informed me at the time that he was interested in sharing the airport weather station data but also addressed cost concerns. I believe he spoke to his manager at the time, but the idea didn’t get much traction from the manager. After some time – perhaps a year – had passed, I called the airport manager again to express my continued interest in getting a feed of Miami University’s weather station data. His position had not changed, but I asked for his manager’s contact information this time. He obliged, and I reached out to his manager by phone. I never received a phone call from that manager, and I believe through an Internet search some months later that he had retired.

In the spring of 2017 and as I mentioned above, I came to your campus to see your geothermal plant and other nearby sustainability operations. I was impressed to see such forward thinking from a university. I also respected the business angle; being more sustainable benefits the bottom line.

While I was there, I connected with your marketing team and also your Director of Planning, Architecture & Engineering. I asked both parties about the possibility of sharing Miami University Airport’s weather station data out with the world. The marketing department responded to me in the days that followed with news that the university was not interested in sharing your airport weather station data. I followed up with the Director of Planning, Architecture, & Engineering in the days after I met him, and he responded saying that any additional operating expenses [at the airport, I assume] would make any additive costs prohibitive.

That takes us to today. I feel the need to clarify, publicly, the importance of your airport’s weather station data:

  1. Safety: Your weather station as measured severe wind gusts many times over the last few years. These measured gusts led to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, which are issued to keep people safe and informed about dangerous storms. Many of those people placed in these warnings are your students and staff. Many of those people are also residents of Oxford. The National Weather Service has ways of accessing your weather station that the rest of the world does not; they have this ability in an effort to keep people safe, but know that because they do not have a stream of your data, they have to go looking for it. As a meteorologist, I want you to know that meteorologists depend on real-time weather station from local airports, especially during times of active and severe weather.
  2. Quality: Backyard, personal weather stations are not as reliable or accurate as airport weather stations. State-owned weather stations networks – like the Ohio Department of Transportation’s – are not as accurate as airport weather stations. I recognize that you can get real-time data from Oxford area personal weather stations or the ODOT weather station northwest of Oxford near the Ohio/Indiana border. While “close enough” may work for temperatures, visibility and wind measurements are not as reliable or accurate for non-airport weather stations. Airport weather stations also observe precipitation types and intensities; state and personal weather networks don’t measure that kind of weather data. Your airport weather station does. That’s why it’s important to share out your data.
  3. Marketing: Imagine media meteorologists sharing weather conditions from the Miami University Airport. Imagine pilots seeing weather conditions in the cockpit on their iPads and landing there because they know it is safe to land…and then they refuel and increase your revenues.
  4. Cost: There seems to be a misconception of the cost of sharing airport weather station data out to the world through a vendor. Yes, it true; you must use a vendor to share the AWOS data out through either an FAA-certified method or non-FAA-certified method. This process does not cost thousands of dollars. In fact, I’ve done the research on costs on sharing the airport weather station data through a vendor, and I want to share my research:
    • Stanwyck Avionics (non-FAA-certified method, but still flows to NOAA’s secondary data stream where the National Weather Service and media can use it): $1,500 one-time software charge/cost and an annual fee of $300.
    • RSINet (FAA-certified method): $60/month with a one year contract. No upfront costs through this vendor that I’m aware of.
    • AnyAWOS (FAA-certified method): $70/month. No upfront costs through this vendor that I’m aware of.

Based on the price of Jet A and 100LL fuel on the Miami University Airport website, you could fund sharing your airport weather station data each month by selling about 15 gallons of gas. A Cessna 172 – a very common general aviation aircraft – has a fuel capacity of 42 gallons.

I looked at Miami University’s 2016-2017 operating budget, and found $70 a month would take 0.4% of the airport’s annual budget. Unfortunately, the revenue and expenses for the “airport services” segment of the operating budget are equal:

jun4-blog-budget

The Director of Planning, Architecture & Engineering was correct in saying that additional costs would make this segment unprofitable. Of course, the nominal cost of sharing AWOS data out with the world through a vendor can be budgeted. I am quite surprised – as a business person – that the “airport services” segment is the only one in the “Auxiliary Enterprises” umbrella that doesn’t generate a profit.

The marketing budget for the Farmer School of Business alone in 2015-2016 was $3.78 million. With an annual budget in the hundreds of millions, can Miami University not afford $840 a year to spend on sharing airport weather station data out through a vendor? This small expense is an investment in weather safety and awareness while also increasing marketing for the university. Your asset that costs tens of thousands of dollars next to the runway holds valuable data that only a select few can see now. For a fraction of the cost of that asset, you can share that quality data that comes from that asset with students, staff, the community, the media, meteorologists, pilots, and everyone in the world…and they will know what the weather is like at Miami University.

Sincerely,

Scott Dimmich

 

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