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Alumni

Spice in the life of weather forecasting

September 29, 2011

Taking the long view

Although severe weather events such as tornadoes can spice up a forecaster’s day, some meteorologists are content with more long-range views of climate prediction. As Michelle L'Heureux (M.S. ’04) says, the satisfaction comes in being able to successfully forecast large-scale atmospheric and oceanic patterns weeks or months in advance.

“Knowing climate patterns gives you an idea whether storms or precipitation are more likely to occur in a certain region of the country,” says L'Heureux, a meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

The center issues climate outlooks that provide a general idea of whether above- or below-average precipitation and temperature can be expected. “For example, we forecasted an increased risk of drought across the southern U.S. based on our expectations for a La Nina last winter. The forecast was proven mostly correct as shown by dry conditions that exacerbated wildfires in Texas.”

Hitting the books

L'Heureux credits her experience in CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science and invaluable help from co-advisers David Thompson and David Randall for advancing her career in climate research.

“The combination of rigorous coursework and the expectation that students should work on cutting-edge research is what propels graduates to be successful in the real world,” she says. “Even now, seven years out of graduate school, I’m still drawing on those experiences to do my job effectively.”

L'Heureux's advice to current students: “To be successful in a scientific career, you need to be, at your core, an innately curious person about the environment. But it also requires persistence in seeking out and taking advantage of opportunities that will expand your horizons and test you.

"This can sometimes be a scary thing to do, but don't let fear of failure get in the way.”