DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Andy Nash, director of operations, showed weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean on Friday. The National Weather Service Honolulu Forecast Office moved to the UH-Manoa campus from the airport in 1995.
Hawaii meteorologists celebrate a milestone
University of Hawaii and federal meteorologists are celebrating a rich history of weather forecasting, teaching and research in Hawaii and the Pacific.
Leaders in the field will review changes and accomplishments at a UH-Manoa Meteorology Department symposium starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow at the East-West Center to mark the department's 50th anniversary.
Among the speakers will be Colin Ramage, recruited from the Royal Observatory in Hong Kong to lead a meteorology program after the Air Force signed a contract with UH-Manoa on Aug. 19, 1956, to study Pacific typhoons. The program name changed over the years, but he directed it until retiring on Jan. 1, 1988.
Tom Schroeder, who has been at UH-Manoa for 32 years, said when he came to Hawaii in 1974, "the amount of information available to a forecaster was shockingly limited compared to what we have now.
"For a long time Hawaii lagged behind the nation. It was kind of an outpost, a backwater. Now we run our own experimental prediction models."
Schroeder, who was succeeded by Kevin Hamilton as meteorology chairman in 2004, said the department greatly expanded its activities within the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
Moving the National Weather Service forecast office to the Manoa campus in 1995 provided a big inducement to students interested in weather service careers, he said.
The weather service offers Pacific region fellowships through a grant to the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, operated by UH and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Schroeder said. He has directed JIMAR since 1996.
Besides day-to-day forecasting and storm and hurricane predictions, federal and UH meteorologists conduct research into climate and monsoons, El Nino and other phenomena, he said.
Five tenured faculty also participate in the International Pacific Research Center, a U.S.-Japan project at UH-Manoa, Schroeder said.
"Because of the growth of our programs, especially in things like hurricane research, we are drawing students from Florida. ... That's a tribute itself," he said.
Andy Nash, director of operations at the Honolulu Forecast Office since 2002, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at UH from 1986 to 1992, when the office was at the airport. He recalls visiting it just once.
Students, professors and forecasters have benefited from being close neighbors in the Institute of Geophysics Building, he said. "We've got a real good working relationship."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Undergraduate meteorology students visiting the National Weather Service Honolulu Forecast Office at UH on Friday looked over the shoulder of forecaster Pete Donaldson as he studied the monitor. The Honolulu office is one of 13 nationally that is located at a university meteorology department.
Forecasters hold regular briefings and other events for students, and they can walk into the office at any time, Nash said. "It gives them a much better understanding of what they are learning and how that science is applied in real life."
They get a chance to "kind of try out the career" if they want to do operational forecasting, he said. The students and professors also do a lot of research based on discussions with the forecasters and questions they have, he said.
"Forecasters use that information and knowledge," he said, which has resulted in greatly improved forecasts and services for the public, as well as marine and aviation communities.
The Forecast Office has a number of student interns, and they are "snatched up right away," Nash said. Since the 1995 move to Manoa, 15 UH graduate students are working full-time with the weather service across the country, Nash said. Some have returned to the Hawaii office.
Hawaii is a particularly challenging area for forecasters, Nash said, because the office is responsible for a large chunk of the Pacific.
"We're tracking typhoons out in the western Pacific and storms down in the South Pacific, and all this stuff is going on, and we have to kind of in our mind adjust all that information and bring it down to real small scale: Is it going to rain in this part of Oahu or that part of Oahu?" Nash said.