Reflections from a Lead Forecaster at SPC

Mar 02, 2017 3:08pm
Some reflections on working a big severe-weather event:

"...Days like Tuesday challenge severe-storms forecasters either to 1) be at their best and step up their performance when the stakes are high, or 2) shut up, go home and get out of this line of work. I choose the former.

"...Shifts like that are the reason for all of the above: multiple waves of severe storms, some tornadic supercells, seven watches issued (one of my largest counts for a single shift!), while coordinating and overseeing the work of the rest of the crew, trusting them to git 'er done, and shuffling hands in a short-staffed deck to make sure each forecast still goes out and the taxpayers get the excellence they deserve.

"...Unfortunately a couple of those tornadoes were significant (perhaps violent) and deadly, despite what our team did and the timely warnings issued by the local NWS warning offices. I prefer not to dwell on that, but instead think of the lives likely saved by the collective work of the Integrated Warning System, start to finish, outlooks to watches to warnings. I guarantee you those storms would have wrought much more carnage in the early-mid 1900s, as similar weather systems did.

"...The challenge doesn't stop. No outlook or watch can be perfect; there's always dead area with no severe weather, or a forecast that runs too hot or cold, or a severe watch with some tornadoes in it, or a tornado watch with "just" severe and no tornadoes. Some of my forecasts will suck--that's just the brutally honest truth. I hope far more than those will be great. In my business we have to back off the ego and accept the reality of imperfection, of degrees of rightness and wrongness -- usually both at the same time, in the same forecast.

"...I love my job, challenging and ego-bruising as it can be. This role is the culmination of everything that came before and all the investment in time, money and knowledge that more senior scientists and our taxpayers have put into me. All I can do is try to lead by example. The passion is still there after decades."