A little over a month ago, I published an article detailing the daily life of your average private sector meteorologist. Like many industries, precautions taken to combat COVID-19 have led to a ‘new normal’.
According to Gallup, 43% of the workforce were working from home in 2016 at least some of the time. As expected, that number has drastically increased over the past month with telecommunication and online collaboration tools helping employees stay connected. So what happens when your work processes, which are based on real-time collaboration in a 24/7 environment, are upended? For the modern weather industry this is a massive paradigm shift—and a nod to the past.
Before weather forecasts, sailors, farmers and individuals relied on observation and weather wisdom to predict the weather. Concerned with large number of sea wrecks due to storms and an advanced understanding of the weather, British Admiral Robert FitzRoy created the first forecast. With the invention of the telegraph he was able to gather real-time weather data and communicate the information to other telegraph offices. The same was happening in the U.S., where weather networks connected through telegraph would share observations, establishing the first “remote working” team. Eventually, weather rooms and meteorological centers were formed with meteorologists working in teams using sophisticated tools to improve the accuracy of the forecasts.
Meteorologists work in a world of probabilities – shifting through various computer models working to determine not only the most likely outcome, but the potential spread or variation in the forecast solutions. A team of meteorologists are more likely to find the ‘flaws’ or biases that one of the models could be making, and use this information to trend their “most likely”, and “possible range” of forecasts accordingly. Since the atmosphere is a chaotic environment and small variances can drastically affect forecasts, it is beneficial to have a meteorological team working together in real time to share ideas and experiences.
Many businesses still rely on the comprehensive customized forecasts that teams of private sector meteorologists provide, perhaps even more than usual. So how are meteorologists coping with the challenges of providing critical weather services outside the traditional workplace?
For starters, the typical shift briefing – where meteorologists share information on how the weather forecast has changed and their reasoning behind making those adjustments – is now a video conference. Speaking with Allan Persons, a senior meteorologist at DTN (Disclosure: this author works for DTN), “Our meteorologists have been participating in video briefings at the start of each shift and then again halfway through the shift to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the forecast. We use the mid-shift briefing to determine how to best distribute the remaining tasks amongst the group on shift to ensure the best high-quality forecast products.” While Persons acknowledged that it has been surreal for meteorologists to be communicating in new ways outside the traditional office setting, he emphasized the value. “These briefings are essential in ensuring the continuity of our forecasts, which is especially important as we move into the peak of severe weather season that affects so many of our customers.”
Intranet applications, routed phone calls, and even customized software solutions that handle large amount of data have helped meteorologists transfer seamlessly from a forecast office to home. Some work processes created during COVID-19 could even make it back to the forecast office once we return to normal working conditions.
Persons said videoconferencing with customers has been especially helpful to “communicate forecast changes and forecast complexities and model differences. This would likely aid our customers in better decision making and bridge the gap of some nuances that can occur with only a written or verbally communicated forecast.”
COVID-19 will undoubtedly change the way we work forever, with private sector meteorologists likely being no exception. Hopefully there is a silver lining to the storm clouds that are currently overhead so that when we get past the setbacks that COVID-19 have brought about, we emerge stronger by investing in and implementing new technologies. Private sector meteorologists may look forward to having a new set of tools that will help them become more efficient with workflow and even better communicators of weather forecasts.