Friday, April 20, 2018

How I Became a Meteorologist

How (or why) did you become a meteorologist?  It's a question I ask my students on the first day of class each semester.  Many people who are meteorologists have wanted to be one for most of their lives.  Often they can point to a specific weather event, perhaps a tornado, hurricane, or winter storm, as the moment that they decided to go into meteorology.  In some cases, I know multiple people who were motivated to become a meteorologist by the same storm

I was infected early by the weather bug.  My path to meteorology was paved by youthful experiences in the Adirondack Mountains.  The weather in the Adirondacks is usually somewhere between partly and mostly crappy,  and in the late 1970s and 1980s the forecasts were truly terrible.  Whether hiking, backpacking, canoeing, nordic skiing, or alpine skiing, we had to be prepared for anything. 

There are, however, two backpack trips that were essential for sparking my interest in weather.  My father and I used camp or backpack in the Adirondacks every Columbus Day weekend, which is a long weekend in New York State.  In 1981, the trip was especially memorable because it had snowed at upper elevations.  We spent three days in the High Peaks Wilderness and hiked much of the Great Range, one of the most spectacular areas in the Adirondacks.  Our experiences greatly stoked my love of snow and my interest in mountain weather.

Dad and I on the trail.  Heavily clothed in cotton.  We had plastic ponchos too.  It was a different time!
The Great Range from Big Slide Mountain.  Gothics is just left of center, named by Adirondack Guide Orson Phelps for the slides that resemble Gothic architecture.   
Filling water bottles from a local stream.  I don't remember ever filtering or treating water.  It was a different time!

The Great Range and other high peaks from Armstrong Mountain

On the summit of Gothics.  This was my 9th "high" peak, one of 46 Adirondack Peaks thought to be at or above 4,000 feet in early 20th century surveys.

On "belay".  Well not really, but some Adirondack trails have cables and other contraptions to aid in the ascent and descent.
A second trip, which I usually cite as the moment I decided to become a meteorologist, occurred a couple of  years later.  We were on an overnight backpack in the High Peaks when we were caught in a torrential thunderstorm.  We hastily descended to a low pass and pitched our tent, eventually waking the next morning in a pond of water.  It was at that time that I decided that was never going to happen to me again and that I would become a meteorologist. 

A strong desire to understand and predict the weather I encounter in the mountains has been a great source of ideas and motivation for me through my career.  When in the mountains, I still feel like a kid in a candy shop.  So much to observe and understand!  The paths of others in my field may be somewhat different, but passion for weather and the natural world seems to flow through nearly all of our veins. 


  1. Enjoyed this. I grew up in Amsterdam NY, at the southern end of the Adirondacks. Lots of great memories from family trips in those same places you mentioned that laid the foundation for my outdoor recreation enthusiasm (although I didn't take up skiing until I moved out west).

  2. "The paths of others in my field may be somewhat different, but passion for weather and the natural world seems to flow through nearly all of our veins."
    Yes! Some memories from grad school:
    A fellow student drove all the way from Albany,NY to Long Island just to experience a close encounter with a hurricane.
    The buzz in the map room during the winter storm where Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th St. Bridge in DC and plunged into the Potomac.
    Clamoring with fellow students to the roof of the Earth Sciences building to watch approaching thunderstorms.