Avid Surfer, Forecaster Receives Joanne Simpson Award for Sustained Mentorship of Colleagues

Mark Willis, a development manager and forecast strategist for Surfline—the go-to global surfing forecast company—is the 2012, and first, recipient of The Joanne Simpson Mentorship Award. Willis, a lifelong surfer who is at home when the surf is cranking, won the award for aiding NWS volunteer interns in gaining experience valuable to their future careers through dedicated mentorship, and sustained encouragement and guidance.
The Front Page set out to learn more about Willis and his penchant for mentoring. He worked for Surfline for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s before joining the NWS Eastern Region marine program. Then, recently, he returned to Surfline. The following is our Q and A session in which Willis sheds some light on his particular style of engagement with colleagues.

Mark Willis surfing an impressive wave along the North Carolina coast.

What’s your area of expertise in meteorology? And did that help you secure the most recent position you had with NOAA?
My expertise is in marine and coastal forecasting, but I enjoy all aspects of meteorology and oceanography. My marine background definitely helped me secure my last position at NOAA as the Marine Program Manager at NWS Eastern Region Headquarters.
What was your passion that got you into marine forecasting?
I became interested in marine forecasting through surfing. I grew up surfing on the East Coast and became fascinated by waves and how they changed so quickly. I learned much of the science behind wave forecasting on my own and by working at Surfline as its difficult to get much formal training on the subject. I became involved in ocean wave modeling in graduate school and continued to work on wave modeling projects in the NWS. I’ve been lucky to be able to work in forecast offices that have marine responsibility as this has greatly enhanced my knowledge of the ocean and the atmosphere.
What is your current title and affiliation, and what is it you now do?
Global Forecast Development Manager/Lead Forecast Strategist with Surfline, Inc. Surfline also owns Buoyweather.com and Beachlive.com. My job is to lead Surfline/Buoyweather/Beachlive’s push into international markets and also help to fine tune existing products and develop future products.
Who were the folks you were mentoring?
I have mentored several students and employees throughout my career as a meteorologist. I mentored volunteer interns when I was a forecaster at the NWS forecast office in Newport/Morehead City, North Carolina. Most were college students but I also worked with a couple of high school students. I also mentored new employees when I was the East Coast forecast manager at Surfline in the early 2000s. I have been fortunate that both of my employers have allowed me to mentor, as it’s something I greatly enjoy.
Tell us your philosophy on mentoring and what sets it apart from others’ techniques/methods?
One thing I always thought of when I was working with students and/or new hires was that I was in their shoes not too long ago. I always ask myself, “What would have made me grow and feel more comfortable?” The answer to that was always the same – just make sure they feel welcome, included during forecast decisions, and find the right times to train and teach. I think it’s important not to continuously throw things like QG theory down their throats and show them how much you know. It’s more important to get to know the person, find their learning style, and adapt to the human being. Most of all, get to know who they really are, ask about their family, hobbies, find their true interests in meteorology and just try to educate and mentor where you can.
As far as what sets that apart from others’ techniques/methods – I’m honestly not sure. I did take the student that nominated me for this out surfing a couple of times though where we talked about life and exchanged waves, so maybe that’s what set it apart!
How do you use that to promote excellence in forecasting/the atmospheric sciences?
I just try to be a hard worker, lead by example, and follow my passions. Hopefully that promotes excellence in our ever so humbling field.
Will you continue to mentor in your new position?
Every chance I get. I also hope I get the opportunity to be mentored by some of the veterans at Surfline as well, as they have an incredible staff with the best group of marine/surf forecasters and modelers in the world. Surfline is always looking for the brightest and the best so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to mentor new employees in the future.
When you first learned you were going to receive this particular award, what was your reaction?
I was shocked when Jon [Malay] called me to tell me the news, honestly. This award is hands down one of the highlights of my career. I have a great sense of pride in the fact that the students and colleagues I mentored went out of their way to nominate me for this.
One additional thing I’d like to highlight on this subject is that the news of the award came right after a very stressful period of dealing with Hurricane Irene both professionally and personally. The award definitely lifted my spirits after that!
What advice would you give a colleague who wanted to win this same award next year?
Be yourself, get to know the people you are mentoring, and find good entry points to train and mentor. Don’t force it.
What single piece of wisdom would you hope those you mentored would carry into their careers?
As the late Sean Collins (founder of Surfline) taught me and inscribed into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame—“Follow your Passions.” You’ll perform much better and find more satisfaction in your career if you enjoy what you are doing.

Hazardous Weather Testbed Team Wins 2012 Spengler Award for Severe Storm Collaboration

The 2012 Kenneth C. Spengler Award recipient is a team of eight scientists and forecasters with the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT). Their collaborative efforts are being acknowledged for bringing the government, academic, and private sectors together in a visionary, proactive, and exemplary manner to deal with the challenges posed by hazardous weather.
The HWT, a facility jointly managed by NSSL, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), and the NWS Oklahoma City/Norman Weather Forecast Office (OUN), is leading the way to engage the weather enterprise in turning severe storm research into operations.
HWT team members are John “Jack” Kain, Steve Weiss, Russell Schneider, Mike Coniglio, Greg Carbon, David Bright, Jason Levit, and Jay Liang. The Front Page met with Schneider (SPC director) and Weiss (SPC chief of support) to learn more about HWT, its dual programs focused on warnings and forecasts, and the advances HWT has championed as well as the challenges that remain.
The full interview is available below.

2012 Remote Sensing Prize Winner Sees Polarimetric Radar Research Go Nationwide

Viswanathan N. “V.N.” Bringi, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at Colorado State University, is the 2012 recipient of the AMS Remote Sensing Prize. Known to many simply as “Bringi,” his career-long research and development of dual-polarization technology earned him this honor for his outstanding contributions to the advancement of polarimetric Doppler weather radar.
The Front Page sat down with Bringi at the 92nd AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans last week to learn more about his research as well as the development of polarimetric radar into an advanced forecast tool. You can listen to the interview below.
Bringi spent decades working with what he describes as a relatively simple idea to perfect the complex technology and to convince experimental radar meteorologists that it could be used in operational forecasting. His efforts paid off and his legacy was written when the NWS announced in 2011 that it would be upgrading its nationwide network of 159 Doppler weather radars with dual-polarization technology. NSSL states that the potential benefits with dual polarization will be “as significant as the nationwide upgrade to Doppler radar in the 1980s.”
While Bringi anticipated it would eventually occur, he added,  “I was greatly elated that the upgrade would happen before I retired.” The upgrade of the Doppler radar network is expected to be completed this year, concurrent with Bringi’s change in status at CSU to professor, emeritus.

The 2012 Jule G. Charney Award Winner Strives to Simulate Complex Clouds, Rid Models of Errors

Chris Bretherton, professor in the University of Washington Departments of Atmospheric Science and Applied Mathematics, is the recipient of the 2012 Jule G. Charney Award. He received this distinction for fundamental contributions to our understanding of atmospheric moist convection, particularly the discovery of mechanisms governing the transition from stratocumulus to shallow cumulus convection.
In a video interview, which you can view below, Bretherton discusses his research accomplishments and what he is looking forward to working on next: ridding models of cloud feedbacks on climate. In addition, he also mentions that he isn’t the first member of his family to win The Jule G. Charney Award, which is in the form of a medallion. In an email sent to The Front Page, he explains the connection, and also tells how he got his start in atmospheric research:
“I have a distinguished family history in meteorology.  My father, Francis Bretherton, was awarded the first Jule Charney award in 1983 for his work in areas of geophysical fluid dynamics ranging from internal gravity wave dynamics to frontogenesis to ocean eddy processes.  I have a very similar skill set, and I have always loved mountaineering and other outdoor sports, where weather is of paramount importance.  Thus, I was also drawn into the field.”


Is Meteorology Turning Into Computer Science?

by A.J. Jain, from his blog Fresh AJ
I was able to attend the student conference career fair on Saturday, the energy committee meeting for students on Sunday, and the climate, energy, and new economy talks on Monday. I was able to network with a lot of wonderful meteorology students, young professionals, senior level executives, energy trade floor meteorologists, and just readers of my blog too. The conference is still going on now, so I can only speak of the 3 days I attended. From what I saw, my friends at the AMS put on an amazing conference!
Now with that being said, let’s get onto my post. Is Meteorology turning into Computer Science?
Why am I asking this question? Well, in my previous post of “The Future of Meteorology”, I discussed that the three main areas of growth will be 1) Weather Modeling 2) Weather Derivatives and Insurance 3) Private weather forecasting. But I never got into what skills would be required for the future of meteorology. Today that’s what I want to discuss based on what I saw at the AMS student conference.
After attending the student conference at the AMS career fair, I spoke to each private employer that was hiring meteorologists. Some of the employers I spoke to at the booths were, Unisys, Climate Corporation, Wunderground, AccuWeather, Impact Weather, among others.
And here’s what was very intriguing: a majority of these employers are looking for meteorology developers (i.e., people who are excellent at programming but also understand meteorology).
Meteorology programmers are a growing trend in today’s meteorology job world. Whether it is programming using Python, C++, Objective C, or PHP, the “new” graduate in meteorology in today’s economic climate should probably have these skills under their belt. When I spoke to a few of them…they mentioned if someone is a M.S. or Ph.D. with programming skills, they would like to talk with you. Some of them even mentioned they were prepared to throw ridiculous amounts of cash if you met those qualifications…so if you’re interested in learning more, let me know!
Many of these private weather corporations deal with large data sets. Since there is a great demand from the private and public industry on high resolution and accurate modeling, many firms are hiring in these areas of the meteorology. So being able to understand database programming and statistics is very important too.
In addition to the student conference career fair, I also attended a presentation about how NOAA/NWS is working with the DOE and the private energy world in providing more resources for these companies to use. The concentration of the presentation was about the WFIP model and how they are working with private industry leaders to make short term wind forecasting more accurate.
I think the meteorology community has plenty of weather models to access now…but the hard part is integrating and customizing them into the private world for them to effectively utilize them. In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, the weather modeling world is continuing to enhance the features of the model, along with it’s accuracy and resolution. And that’s why I feel this is a growing trend and a need for programmers who understand meteorology.
This trend is very interesting to me because when I went to the student conference 10 years ago (yes now you know how I old I am), the majority of the positions I saw were operational meteorology jobs.
To be honest, none of the private employers I talked to at the student conference even mentioned they were hiring operational meteorologists. So in today’s tough economic climate, it requires you to think outside the box. And that also means taking other positions within weather companies (or government) in order to get your “foot in the door”. Once you have your foot in the door, it’s easier to work your way internally to where you want to be.
Bottom line, if the growing trend is to hire meteorological developers, and you happen to be a good developer…you should start applying to these jobs or contacting private employers. Even though you may want to be in forecasting…it’s better to at least “get in” to a company than “wait” for a forecasting job to open up. Hope that makes sense!
Are any of you seeing the same hiring trend out there for meteorologists? Do you think meteorology is turning into Computer Science? Would love to hear your perspective, and your thoughts on the AMS conference, too.

Driving Home the Point about Listening

Crescent City Pedicabbie, the taxi-blogger service here in New Orleans, writes:

The American Meteorological Society is holding their annual conventionin New Orleans this week. Late this afternoon I picked up a convention-goer, and as he settled into the seat, he asked me: “Is it going to rain this evening?”
I started to give him my best guess when I remembered who he was. I whirled around in my seat to look at him in disbelief. “Seriously? You’re asking ME?”
Looking back on the incident, I’m wondering if he was collecting data for the forecast. Maybe they factor the intuition of pedicabbies into it or something.

Well….yes, actually (and we don’t just listen to cabbies with elaborate theories). Take, for example, the abstract for a presentation here at the AMS Annual Meeting on Tuesday, by Marcel Molendijk, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) In the Netherlands, the 35 official weather observation stations provide plenty of density for purely meteorological information, but equally significantly, the density of development in such a small country also means the need for ground truth of weather impacts is equally great. So KNMI has initiated a new weather alerts system that solicits feedback from citizens through an iOS app for mobile devices. The user of the app selects preset conditions and can attach a photo. The software applies GPS location and time stamp and sends the information to the weather forecasters.
So indeed, pedicabbies are now in the weather observation game and their intuition–at least their observations–are much appreciated by the professionals. Thanks for driving that point home, CrescentCityPedicabbie.

2012 Verner E. Suomi Award Recognizes Extensive Field Work to Understand Ozone Dynamics

Anne Thompson, professor of meteorology at Penn State, is the 2012 recipient of The Verner E. Suomi Award. She is being recognized with the Suomi Award, which is in the form of a medallion, for exceptional vision and leadership in deploying technologies that have significantly advanced the understanding of ozone dynamics in the atmosphere.
The Front Page sat down with Dr. Thompson to learn more about her research accomplishments and her passion for field programs, which produced huge amounts of data, allowing her to unlock the secrets of ozone dynamics. She also extends that passion to students who sometimes need prompting to participate in field work , willing them to “open your eyes and get involved.”
Click on the image below to view the interview.

Suomi Now Smiles Down Upon Us

NASA and NOAA announced today at the AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans that they have renamed the recently launched polar orbiter, NPOESS preparatory project, the Suomi NPP, after the late Verner Suomi, who was one of the pioneers in creating instruments for satellite observations of the weather. AMS annually gives out a prestigious Verner Suomi Award for technological achievement–this year’s winner is Anne Thompson.
“Verner Suomi’s many scientific and engineering contributions were fundamental to our current ability to learn about Earth’s weather and climate from space,” says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Suomi NPP not only will extend more than four decades of NASA satellite observations of our planet, it also will usher in a new era of climate-change discovery and weather forecasting.”
Suomi, who died in 1995 at the age of 79, spent nearly his entire career at Univ. of Wisconsin. He is legendary for developing the spin-scan camera, which allowed satellites in stationary orbit of one point on Earth to maintain continuous focus and enable, among other capabilities, the instant-replay-style weather images we watch on television.
In 1968 he won the AMS’s highest award, the Rossby Medal

for his imagination, ingenuity, and versatility in conceiving and designing diverse meteorological sensors which have helped to transform the satellite as a meteorological probe from a dream to a reality. His Spin-Scan camera has given us our most comprehensive views of the atmosphere as an entity, and has already led to revised ideas concerning the circulation in lower latitudes.

and in 1977, he received the National Medal of Science — one of many awards — though his son Eric Suomi expects his father would have been particularly appreciative of Suomi NPP’s mission and new name.
The University of Wisconsin gathered comments on the name change:

“I think this is an excellent match,” says Eric Suomi, an electrical engineer who lives in Madison. “Had my father still been around, he would have been pushing for more of the kind of instruments on this satellite and the observations they’ll be making of our planet.”
“Vern flew the first experiment to look at the Earth from space on Explorer 7,” says Hank Revercomb, a Suomi collaborator and director of UW-Madison’sSpace Science and Engineering Center, which Suomi helped establish in 1965. “That was a radiation budget experiment, and there is actually a similar experiment, an instrument called ‘CERES,’ on the spacecraft they’ve named for him.”
Suomi NPP will also add to long-term climate records, monitor the health of the ozone layer, measure global ice cover and air pollution levels, map vegetation and — with the help of a sounder, an instrument conceived by Suomi and refined by Revercomb — contribute to better weather forecasts with sharper data on cloud cover, wind, temperature and atmospheric moisture.
“This satellite is designed to study the atmosphere and improve our understanding of how and why changes make a difference in our weather and climate,” Univ of Wisconsin Professor Steve Ackerman says. “Those were Day One objectives of Verner’s from the 1950s.”


The Good Meteorologist: CCM Forum Wednesday

Are you good at what you do? Of course, you are…but are you good in what you do?
All professions ultimately uphold specific ethical standards–guidelines for being good in a moral sense. In some cases these are established by laws enacted in the interest of the public that relies on these professionals. Meteorology may not be as heavily regulated as some professions, but it still is subject to laws and government regulation, especially to the extent that researchers spend government dollars, or professionals engage in business or work for governmental agencies.
Oddly enough, however, obeying the standards of a profession are not always equivalent to simply behaving well in the usual sense of being good. Our lives in private or personal matters are governed by a different code of conduct than our lives as professionals. Or so insist ethics experts. According to Albert Flores, Philosophy Professor at California State Univ.–Fullerton,

to suppose that there must be absolute consistency between private and public actions does violence to the very point of drawing the distinction in the first place.

Flores cites, for example, the difference the lengths to which a lawyer must go, ethically, to defend a client and the way the same lawyer would behave in disputes in private life. And it is ok for a police officer to deceive a suspect under investigation but not ok to employ deception in dealing with friends.  It’s also ok in private life to promise to do something that you don’t yet know how to do, but not ok as a scientific consultant to portray yourself as capable of things you aren’t yet competent in doing. As a result of contradictions like this, you can’t count on your well-ingrained sense of right and wrong to guide you through every ethical dilemma as a meteorologist, whether in private practice, in government, or in academia. And because laws and codes are involved, you may not even realize what sort of decision could get you in legal trouble as a professional. There’s a lot to know.
To help you navigate the rights and wrongs of meteorology, the CCM Forum at this Annual Meeting is devoting its Wednesday discussions to professional ethics. At 10:30 a.m. (Room 245) Bernard Meisner CCM “will review some of the most common situations faced by NWS consulting meteorologists” in his presentation, “Ethical Practice for National Weather Service Consulting Meteorologists
At 1:30 p.m., Jerry Hill, CCM, will moderate a panel discussion of “Contemporary Ethics Problems Facing Meteorology Community.” Among the panelists will be Univ. of New Mexico Regents Professor Law, Marsha Baum, who is a scholar of the intersection of meteorology and the legal system, and is the featured speaker at the CCM Town Hall (12:15-1:15 p.m., Room 239). Prof. Baum teaches a course on “Weather in U.S. Law and Society” and has titled her keynote speech, “Is It Law or is it Ethics.”