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Dr. John Cortinas - Meteorologist
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You can never tell the impact that a new idea will have on you. New ideas can open up opportunities that we have never dreamed of. When I was in junior high school, the teachers offered a series of mini-courses. These mini-courses were meant to be fun and entertaining and were not part of the regular required courses. These were courses on topics that the teachers themselves had a real interest in. We were given three choices. I canít remember what my first two choices were, but it doesnít matter anyway because I didnít get them! Instead, I got my third choice, a class on weather. I still remember the enthusiasm my teacher had for studying the weather. Her experience as a pilot gave her the ability to teach us about the atmosphere and weather in a way that was interesting. The new ideas she presented in class opened up a world of opportunities for me. Growing up in Nebraska gave me a chance to experience many different types of weather, including severe thunderstorms, tornados, and blizzards. I was fortunate that many teachers gave me continued advice and guidance, which helped me realize that I could be a meteorologist if that was what I really wanted to be. After I graduated from high school, I went to three different colleges and universities for ten more years to get a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in atmospheric science. Today I study weather as a research meteorologist.

I work at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, which is a government laboratory supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I study hazardous winter weather, particularly ice storms and heavy snowstorms. As a research meteorologist, I do not make weather forecasts for the news on television, nor do I make forecasts that people hear on the radio or read in the newspaper. Instead, I study the weather that has already occurred in order to answer the questions people have about how and why certain types of weather happen. There is still so much that meteorologists do not know about the weather, especially about how to predict accurately what kind of weather people should expect in the future.

What I do as a research meteorologist is similar to working on a big science project. First, I come up with an interesting question about a winter storm that no one has answered. Second, I learn as much as I can about what we already know about this particular type of storm by reading books and scientific journals. Next, I make a scientific guess--a hypothesis--about why this type of winter storm is happening. After coming up with a hypothesis, I try to find out the chance that my guess is correct by studying the weather observations during similar winter storms. A computer is absolutely necessary, as I have to attempt to solve many mathematical equations. These equations are part of the mathematical model that meteorologists use to study weather patterns. Since meteorologists cannot bring the weather inside to a laboratory like chemists and physicists are able to do, we have to use observations taken outside (like temperature, pressure, and relative humidity) that measure the state of the atmosphere. This information gives us clues about what is happening in the atmosphere and helps us to figure out why different types of weather occur.

If you are interested in studying the weather, I encourage you to look at my web page or send me e-mail at cortinas@nssl.noaa.gov. I would be happy to answer your questions about the weather and about being a meteorologist.


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