Diary of a Regional Operations Center Meteorologist
(Ed. Note: SRH periodically issues an announcement for applications from individuals interested in participating in the TDY program described in this summary. The current announcement closes August 15. There are usually many applications, submitted by WCMs, forecasters, interns and others, from both WFOs and RFCs. Applications should be submitted through the MIC or HIC. We envision this program will continue through 2001.)
From May 15 to June 9, 2000, I volunteered for a temporary duty assignment at the SRH Regional Operations Center. The first week began when I arrived at the DFW Airport, picked up a rental car and made my way through the maze of interstate highways to locate the apartment which had been arranged for me in Ft. Worth. Navigating through the downtown Ft. Worth I-30/I-35 "mix-master, a maze of highways under construction, quickly reminded me that Texans are some of the fastest and most reckless drivers I've even seen! It looked like construction was moving along, but several of the ramps appeared to just go up into space with no connecting roads, like the era of personal space travel was coming to Ft. Worth and the roads were just take-off ramps for flying vehicles. Who knows? Maybe a good idea.
The apartment was conveniently located in a nice area, with plenty of shopping and restaurants nearby. I checked into the apartment, a gated complex with a pool and exercise facility, and found the folks to be very hospitable and the accommodations to be quite nice. The answering machine already had a message on it from my brother, who has lived in the area for over 20 years, and he said he had tickets to the Texas Rangers baseball game that evening and wanted to know if I could make it. I called back and said OK and we headed out to the Ballpark. The stadium is new and very nice, a definite must-see while you're in town and if baseball is your bag. Of course, the Dallas/Ft. Worth area offers a wealth of recreational activities from sight-seeing, cultural arts and events, to Six Flags Amusement Park, professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey, plenty of golf courses, and many other activities.
Ron Morales from WFO Tampa Bay Area was the Regional Operations Center (ROC) meteorologist from whom I was taking over (with a few-day overlap). We met the next day at SRH to start the transition process. I learned the aspects of the day-to-day job duties from Ron, was introduced to the SRH staff members, and learned my way around the headquarters. The ROC meteorologist works primarily within what has been the Meteorological Services Division (MSD) - now the Climate, Water and Weather Division - which oversees much of the day-to-day programs in a weather service office, including public programs, aviation, marine, fire weather, warning coordination activities, NWR/CRS, and performance and evaluation. The division staff members are extremely professional and dedicated to their jobs, and made my learning transition very easy and enjoyable. The ROC meteorologist carries a pager in the event he/she is needed for any emergencies.
A key aspect of the ROC meteorologist's duties is monitoring severe weather and its impact on Southern Region operations. An important part of that is keeping the Texas Director of Emergency Management informed of weather affecting Texas. (At the request of the state, Southern Region Headquarters became the central focal point for weather information after MAR restructuring resulted in 13 WFOs in Texas.) The state briefings might cover severe storms, hurricanes, flooding, fires, droughts, and anything else of urgent interest to the state officials. Another primary duty in the ROC is activation of the Southern Region Hurricane Operations Center, however no tropical activity developed during my TDY.
I participated in the daily SRH morning weather briefing at 8:30, which typically covered significant weather from the previous day and the forecast of weather which might impact Southern Region in the coming days. I also presented this briefing once while I was there. Also as part of MSD, I attended the morning MSD "blast-up" staff meeting, which is an effective tool to coordinate activities among the MSD staff, pass information among office personnel, and provide staffers a daily forum to voice concerns/issues within the management staff. Other significant briefings I attended during my TDY were from other regional personnel. Topics covered included Southern Region's position on the transition from NIDS vendors for radar data to establishing an NWS Web page for public access to real-time radar data; the acquisition of military radar data by NWS offices; and a briefing from a visiting FIC from WFO Mobile on a marine verification program which offices may be able to use.
Fire weather issues were very important during my stay, and along with other SRH staff I participated in morning conference calls with meteorologists from New Mexico and Florida, where the serious fire danger and active fires were on-going. Additionally, I provided briefings to the regional staff on the status of these fires, as well as coordinating with them on arranging NWS support. One key issue I worked on during my stay was the "After Actions Report" from the Los Alamos, New Mexico fire, an event which generated considerable national attention and press coverage.
For The Record (FTR) reports were prepared as needed. The FTR summarizes the what-when-where-how weather information, and other details of a weather or flood event which has affected Southern Region operations. The reports are always done when there is a loss of human life, or a high media interest in a weather event. These reports help NWS Headquarters and regional staff members stay informed of significant events. While I was at SRH two deaths occurred in the region, one due to lightning and the other due to flash flooding.
Additionally, I worked on a climatological reference book for Southern Region personnel to use when responding to media inquiries, and a State of Texas climatological summary for the State Director of Emergency Management. The Texas state summary was to be included in their assessment of the potential of natural disasters to affect the state, and their impact on the funding of response operations. I also assisted in updating the Regional Operations Center Hurricane Procedures Book which is used as a guide when a tropical system affects Southern Region.
To share something of interest from my office, I presented a talk at SRH which reviewed the southwest Georgia severe weather event of February 13-14, 2000, when a major tornado outbreak threatened our county warning area.
Finally, on a personal note, about midway through my stay in Ft. Worth, I contracted the Ft. Worth Flu (as I called it) for a day or so, and then a bit of Texas Tumbleweed stuck in my throat which gave me a bit of raspiness in my voice for a week. But that aside, in conclusion I can truly say the experience was tremendous and well worth it. Working as a ROC meteorologist at Southern Region Headquarters gave me an opportunity to be a part of a well disciplined and dedicated staff of professionals. I was able to obtain a better perspective on regional and national issues and how they relate to the field offices. A special thanks goes out to the staff of MSD - CWWD- they made me feel a part of the team.