Your family picnic is scheduled for 1 o’clock this afternoon, and the sky looks ominous. Will it rain? Should you cancel? Or will that weather system move to the north?
Answers to these questions are just a click away at www.weather.gov – the website for the National Weather Service.
The Johnston weather forecast office in central Iowa is one of 122 locations nationwide governed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Johnston office provides the weather outlook for 51 of Iowa’s 99 counties, providing forecasts for winter storms, tornado watches and warnings, flood watches, and seven-day forecasts.
Six Iowa State meteorology graduates work at the Johnston office, including Ken Harding (A)(’86), meteorologist in charge.
“Most meteorologists have wanted to do this since they were little kids,” Harding says. “Some had a severe weather event in their past – a tornado or a flood. Then they’re hooked.”
Meteorologists staff the Johnston office 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have access to Doppler weather surveillance radar equipment with a 250-mile range.
“We can look at thunderstorms, measure wind, see precipitation…it’s wonderful,” Harding says. “It’s sensitive enough to see a bumblebee at 40 miles.”
There’s pressure to be accurate, and there’s especially pressure to predict severe storms accurately in order to give people time to take cover or avoid the threat.
“You’re protecting lives,” Harding says. “We take the ‘service’ part of National Weather Service very seriously.”