Earlier this year the National Weather Service appointed its longtime leader, Louis W. Uslini, who retired after an illustrious career in meteorology. Uccelini guided the agency through organizational change and positioned its workforce for future success. And making sure it all comes together for the past 5 years has been the agency’s deputy director, Mary Erickson. In this interview we talk to him about this small government agency with a big mission.
The National Weather Service has experienced significant change over the past two years due to increasingly extreme weather events. We have seen a record number of disasters worth billions of dollars and two of the most active hurricane seasons on record. The National Weather Service responded by adding stronger warning language to weather forecasts, better decision support services for public safety officials, and boosting your models and supercomputers. What’s left to do?
These advances have made the National Weather Service stronger and better equipped to fulfill its public safety mission. Every experience serves as a learning and fuels our constant innovation. Several initiatives on the horizon will advance our science and service capabilities:
- A high priority is transforming our service delivery. Last year we did an equity valuation in line with President Biden’s Executive Order 13985. We asked the tough question: Are our products and services making their way to everyone in the United States? Are vulnerable populations benefiting from the services we provide, and if not – how should we improve? Our research indicated that we still have work to do to make our services equal and accessible to all. We are developing a service equity action plan that relies heavily on social science, includes new products, and requires new forms of employee training.
- We are also laying the groundwork for future forecast improvements. This summer, new supercomputers will provide more computing power to support planned model upgrades and more sophisticated Earth observations. And NOAA launched a new geostationary weather satellite called GOES-T, which will track devastating wildfires, lightning, Pacific Ocean-based storms, thick fog and other hazards that threaten the US West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska. It will also monitor solar activity and space weather to provide early warning of disruptions to the power grid, communications and navigation systems.
- Tackling climate change is a top priority for the Biden administration and NOAA leadership. One goal is to improve community resilience to the effects of climate change. NOAA is preparing to launch a new Climate-Ready Nation Initiative, and with our long record of service delivery at the national, regional and local levels, the National Weather Service will be a major climate service outlet and contributor to this effort.
You have ignited a career path at the top of a traditionally male-dominated field. What barriers still exist for women in STEM careers, and how are you working to break those barriers?
I have mentored young women scientists on their way to senior executive service, to make sure the ladder rungs are safe for the women who follow me. Part of my passion in this area is the knowledge that diverse teams – including gender diversity – excel at far higher rates of success than homogeneous teams. Women are a valuable and integral part of the National Weather Service family, and we are making tremendous contributions to atmospheric science and the surrounding STEM fields that support the growth and success of NOAA.
I supported efforts led by women leaders in the National Weather Service to identify ways we can improve the recruitment, retention and inclusion of women in our workforce. Our first step was to listen and learn so that we can better understand where our organization falls short in providing an inclusive environment. The group identified a number of steps we can take, such as increased scheduling flexibility and job sharing. He also recommended that we conduct “Stay Interviews” to better understand the obstacles so that we can overcome them. We have developed an action plan for these changes shortly and are in the process of implementing them. In addition, NOAA is actively removing barriers through programs and increasing accountability when faced with sexual harassment.
The senseless killing of George Floyd was a national catalyst for change, including a renewed focus on diversity, equality, inclusion and access in socially conscious organizations. How has this national movement affected the organizational culture in the National Weather Service?
We are taking action to ensure that the National Weather Service is a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible place to work, and that all of our employees feel safe and supported. clearly.
National Weather Service employees are part of the fabric of every American community, and we were deeply moved by the death of George Floyd and the national events that followed. To begin healing from this trauma, last summer we started a nationwide conversation on race and diversity through a program we called “Can we talk?” Which brings people of all backgrounds together to discuss diversity and race.
We followed these conversations with an organization-wide Tiger team to improve diversity and better understand the challenges Black and Indigenous People of Color experience within our organization. The Tiger team members were adamant in their analysis and recommendations and spoke with their truth. Courageous honesty.
Inspired by the team’s recommendations, we developed an action plan that is currently being implemented. As an exciting first step, we issued agency-wide guidance on creating a diverse hiring panel to improve the quality of hiring decisions and reduce bias in the hiring process. For all NWS job interviews, we require that at least one question from applicants focuses on diversity and inclusion, and all supervisory performance plans reflect accountability to foster an inclusive workplace where diversity and individual differences are valued. and leveraged to achieve organizational goals.
Extreme weather is undeniably on the rise. The US weather industry is experiencing historic expansion. With these external pressures and demands, how is the National Weather Service rising to meet the challenge?
We remain focused on our core mission of providing reliable and accurate weather forecasting and decision support services to the United States, even as we continue to change the way people receive, understand, and act information. The advancements we are working on today through continued investments in our people, technology and partnerships will ensure that we are able to meet this moment in time as societal needs grow and change. In a changing climate, extreme weather is creating new social challenges, and we recognize partnership as our most valuable tool to move toward new science and to transform our capabilities and services for a more informed and safer country. .
What is the taxpayer’s return on investment in the National Weather Service?
Americans fund the National Weather Service for about three dollars per person per year. In return, we provide advanced knowledge of dangerous weather so people can plan for it and stay safe. We also deliver year-round weather, water and climate forecasts, outlook and scientific data to inform business planning and operations to support the US economy. We provide this service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every county across the country. The decision support we provide to public safety officers helps them make difficult calls quicker and more efficiently. The National Weather Service also enables the growth and success of the entire US weather industry – from your favorite forecast app to your favorite TV meteorologist – The foundation of weather and climate forecasting in the US begins with the public’s investment in science, technology and research. Is. in NOAA.
Nevertheless, the United States experienced weather and climate disasters worth $20 billion in 2021 that killed 688 people. The staggering cost of these disasters was more than $145 billion in total damage. We still have a lot of work to do, which is why prioritizing transformative innovation in the science of forecasting in our operations is critical to a nation’s security and economic security.
What is the future of the National Weather Service? What will its products, services and workforce look like in 10 years?
We are building a workforce that reflects the communities we serve, is interdisciplinary to meet a wide range of weather, water and climate challenges, and is rooted in public service. Over the next decade, we will lean forward to ensure that we are known as a science-based service agency with a people-centred approach. We recognize that there are shortcomings in ensuring that our services are equitably available and usable today, and we are committed to addressing these issues. We will continually evaluate services and assess gaps so that we can ensure that our people and our services are available when and where you need us to meet new and emerging community needs, while ensuring that we Provide timely, accurate and robust forecasting and decision support services.
This vision will be supported by flexible and innovative workplace tools and paradigms, and cleverly incorporating the flexibility of next-generation technologies into our observation, modeling and dissemination infrastructure to take a broad “pulse of the planet” and turn it into forecasts. which will provide a clear. Picture the weather events coming your way…. days, weeks and months ago. Cloud-based tools will enable centralized experts and community forecasters alike to provide “one NWS forecast” when you need it to save lives.