Post by Allan Curtis – Meteorologist Intern
Ever wonder what sort of training meteorologists in the National Weather Service (NWS) go through during their first couple of years? Well, the short answer is a plethora. The amount and type of training can vary a bit depending on the office and area of the country. One piece of training I attended recently, and every meteorologist must go through, is called the Distance Learning Operations Course (DLOC). DLOC is typically attended within the first 12-18 months after being hired by the National Weather Service and is probably the bellwether piece of training provided by the NWS.
The name itself does not give much of an explanation for what it is. So what is DLOC then? It is a crash course in Dual Polarization Radar including its history and predecessors, its nuts and bolts, conceptual models, the algorithms used to create radar products and how to interpret and utilize them during severe weather warning scenarios. And that is just the short explanation. The course covers applications that can be used year-round, including winter weather, but really concentrates heavily on convective weather. One of the primary goals of the course is to prepare meteorologists to issue severe weather warnings, such as severe thunderstorm, tornado, flash flood warnings, and more. In all, the 2014-2015 course included 80 online modules, three instructor led webinars (equaling the “distance” part in the course name), and lastly, a full week at the National Weather Center in Norman, OK for additional classroom sessions and real-time case studies.
All of the online modules and webinars built up a knowledge-base, some of which was new and some was a refresher from college, to be applied, not just during the week in Norman, but throughout one’s career as a meteorologist in the NWS. The week of on-site training was really where headway was made in terms of determining whether or not you knew the material, were able to apply it, and helped highlight areas to be worked on and polished in the future. Certainly no one exited DLOC a bona-fide expert, but it provided a rock solid base and highlighted areas for growth. A typical day during the on-site training included a morning classroom session that highlighted a special topic, such as tornado forecasting or flash flooding, and a related afternoon lab session that allowed direct application of knowledge and simulated weather events from real cases across the country. The lab sessions then consisted of teams of three working together to analyze and issue any and all necessary warnings for a given event. The events were run in real-time in order to simulated the actual severe weather event itself. The simulations were supervised by instructors and they answered questions, provided insight, and pointed out nuances throughout the event. The lab sessions were able to drive home the importance of application of knowledge, time management, team work, and communication, of which would be impossible if strictly done at a distance like the online modules and webinars.
Generally, any degree bearing meteorologist can identify a severe thunderstorm or tornado worthy of a warning for a picturesque thunderstorm on the plains of Texas through Nebraska, but what about lines of storms or clusters of storms? Such as in the Washington D.C. area? Or the Columbia River Valley in Washington state? Or even in the desert areas of Nevada and Arizona? The instructors were cognizant of the text book situations often found on the plains, and were instead eager to provide cases that were not as clear cut and required a more thorough analysis and solid knowledge base. At the end of the week, the result was a worn out group of attendees that gained a better appreciation for what goes into making a warning decision and an understanding that most situations are not clear cut. Another result of the on-site training that is often overlooked and under-appreciated was the networking that began at the course that will ultimately result in colleagues and friends to fall back on for knowledge and support throughout a career.