Ever wondered what went on at the National Hurricane Center? Want to know what goes on behind the scenes at the NHC when a major hurricane threatens land? Well, we got the ooportunity to learn a little bit about that, and a bit more when we recently talked with Stacy Stewart, Hurricane Specialist and Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center. During the course of every hurricane season, things get very hectic at the National Hurricane Center.
Stacy is front and center in much of the activity with his duties at the NHC. Stacy, took some time out recently to talk to us about his work, background, and role at the National Hurricane Center as well as a description of a typical day there. Recently, Stacy took the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us, and below is the transcript of our interview with Stacy about his work at the National Hurricane Center, and here's what he had to say.
Stacy Stewart is a Hurricane Specialist and Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center. He has been forecasting hurricanes and tropical storms since 1986. Stacy has issued forecasts for tropical cyclones in every basin of the world. He has been working at the Tropical Prediction Center since February, 1999, and has been at the National Hurricane Center since April, 2000.
Stewart, also still performs part-time work as a Typhoon Duty Officer (tropical cyclone forecaster) with the U.S. Naval Reserve and work at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Stacy received much of my meteorological experience through on-the-job training in the Navy and the National Weather Service (NWS). He also attended Navy and NWS weather courses and completed many meteorological correspondence courses.
Stewart graduated from Ocala (FL) Vanguard High School in 1973. His formal education consists of an A. A. degree in Pre-Engineering in 1981 from Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL; B. S. degree in Physics and Mathematics in 1984 from Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN; and a M. S. degree in Meteorology in 1992 from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK.
During his short tenure at the NHC, Stewart has had the opportunity to interact at some length with the public and the emergency management community and learn about their needs concerning hurricane preparedness. He has also been able to help design and develop the National Hurricane Awareness Week, 21-25 May 2001, web page at the National Hurricane Center web site.
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Below is the conversation that we had with Stacy Stewart. This conversation developed over the course of several e-mails between us and Stacy. This particular conversation pertained to the work Stacy currently does at the National Hurricane Center along with his other accomplishments, academic background, and a description of a typical day for him at the National Hurricane Center. We thank Stacy for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us, give us his thoughts, and allowing us to post them on our web site.
GM: What is your official title at the National Hurricane Center?
SS: I actually wear two hats -- (1) Hurricane Specialist and (2) Warning Coordination Meteorologist [WCM]
GM: What is your role at the NHC?
SS: During hurricane season for 6 1/2 months of the year, my primary job is to work as a hurricane forecaster for the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Ocean basins. I also have to prepare reports and do other WCM duties. During the 'offseason', my primary job is to perform the tasks of the Warning Coordination Meteorologist [WCM] which consists of preparing curriculum for the many courses we teach, conduct emergency manager hurricane preparedness training, present hurricane preparedness training material at many conferences and seminars, attend and present at required meteorological conferences, conduct tropical cyclone research, give tours of the NHC, and answer informational requests from the public and media via telephone, e-mail, and in live/taped media interviews.
GM: How long have you worked at the National Hurricane Center?
SS: I have been working at the Tropical Prediction Center (TPC) since Feb. 1999. I spent 1 year in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB) as a lead marine forecaster, and have been working the NHC unit since April 2000.
I am also still a part-time Typhoon Duty Officer (tropical cyclone forecaster) with the U.S. Naval Reserve and work at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, HI. I have been working at the JTWC forecasting tropical cyclones for the Navy since 1986.
As a result of my Naval and NHV TC forecasting experiences, I have now issued tropical cyclone forecasts in every tropical cyclone forecast basin in the world.
GM: Where did you go to school to study meteorology?
SS: I received much of my meteorological experience through on-the-job training in the Navy and the National Weather Service (NWS). I also attended Navy and NWS weather courses and completed many meteorological correspondence courses.
I graduated from Ocala (FL) Vanguard High School in 1973. My formal education consists of an A. A. degree in Pre-Engineering in 1981 from Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL; B. S. degree in Physics and Mathematics in 1984 from Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN; and a M. S. degree in Meteorology in 1992 from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK.
GM: Could you name some of the accomplishments that you have had while at the NHC?
SS: During my short tenure at the NHC, I've had the opportunity to interact at some length with the public and the emergency management community and learn about their needs concerning hurricane preparedness. I have also been able to help design and develop the National Hurricane Awareness Week, 21-25 May 2001, web page link that can been found on the NHC home page ( http://www.nhc.noaa.gov )
GM: Describe to us a typical day in your job during hurricane season.
SS: BUSY!! The workload increases if you have to work the 730 am-430 pm day shift and if a hurricane is threatening the U.S. mainland...especially S. Florida. Immediately when you walk in the door, you be required to answer telephone requests or perform media briefings. So as not be 'stone cold', many of get our pre-briefings via the Internet before we leave for work and then arrive 15 minutes early so we can get a formal briefing from the off-going hurricane specialist(s).
Almost immediately (if we do not have to do any media/public briefings) we begin to look at, interpret, and digest the latest large-scale computer model data and compare that data with the current weather patterns. We may also have to evaluate and interpret several pieces of satellite and hurricane reconnaissance data to come up with the approximate position and intensity of a hurricane. Once the position and intensity has been ticking, the "forecast time clock" starts ticking.
Fifteen minutes after we determine the location/position of the hurricane, we send that information to the supercomputers in Washington, D.C. to run in the computer models. About 30 minutes after the clock starts ticking, we download the computer forecast tracks (about 25 model forecasts) and begin to analyze each one and look for model biases or errors.
A tentative forecast must be prepared by 2 hours after the clock starts because at that time, we have to make a coordination call with any U.S. NWS offices, the U.S. Navy, and any international countries that may be affected by our forecast track.
After the coordination call(s), we must finalize our forecast track and have all four forecast advisory products sent out by no later than 3 hours after the cycle first began. We have about 3 hours 'rest' before the next forecast cycle begins, and we try to eat some food during that time period. However, new data (satellite, recon, weather observations) are constantly coming in which have to be analyzed and compared with the previous forecast to ensure that the forecast is still valid.
Sometimes will make erratic motion or rapidly change their intensity which can have an adverse effect on local hurricane preparedness activities. During our 3 hour "rest" period, we are still called on to give media and public briefings. As a result of working on the operations floor, it may be a few days before we have a chance to read and answer any e-mails.
The dayshifts are the busiest, followed by the 430 pm-midnight evening shifts, and the midnight-730 am midnight shifts. Occasionally we will be required to work overtime if we have multiple storms ongoing...especially if one storm is expected to make landfall somewhere. During landfall situations, one hurricane specialist will only work the one landfalling storm in order to allow him to focus all of his attention and energy on that one very important storm. Otherwise, one specialist will routinely work 2 or 3 storms if none are threatening land.
GM: Have any predictions on what will happen in the 2001 Hurricane Season?
SS: Pre-seasonal predictions are always of interest to the public, but yet those forecasts have the least amount of skill as far as specifics. Given that the overall weather and ocean patterns have changed that much from the previous 3 years, the general consensus is that this should be an average (10 named storms, 6 of which will be hurricanes, and 2 to 3 of the hurricanes will be major hurricanes is 'average') to slightly above average season.
No one can predict if and where any hurricane landfalls will occur. Last year we had a very above average number of named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes, yet none of the hurricanes made landfall on the U.S., which was the 9th such occurrence in recorded history (~100 years).
On the other hand, 1992 was a much below average season, yet one storm...Hurricane Andrew...became a major hurricane and struck S. Florida as a powerful category 4 hurricane. So, my 'prediction' for the 2001 season is: It will begin June 1 and run until November 30 --be prepared because it only takes one!
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