Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Weatherperson's Week: Adam Moyer

I thought this year would be a good point to introduce private sector, non-broadcast, meteorologists to the mix of people we profile. There's a big reason why. TV, the National Weather Service, and radio are not places where most meteorologists earn their wings, so to speak.  The private sector, especially around the Delaware Valley, has a number of venues where meteorologists can earn a living.

Adam Moyer's story in getting interested in weather is funny, given most are bit by the weather bug when experiencing weather firsthand.

"Like most meteorologists, I got bit by the bug early. When I was three years old, my father was getting ready to paint the house (you know, back in the day when you had to paint your house every few years). Right as he climbed the ladder to get started, a thunderstorm hit, which apparently wasn’t in the forecast that day. The man would’ve made Patton blush with the words he was using. Up until then, I’d never seen my father curse or get angry, so I’d assumed the rain hurt him. I was literally afraid of rain for the next two years and wanted to learn how to forecast it so my dad wouldn’t get hurt again. It just stuck from there."

Moyer's interest was in predicting rain initially but after some time, he developed his real interest -- tropical meteorology. Moyer's favorite meteorologist as a kid was John Hope and he "always made sure the TV was on The Weather Channel at :48 past the hour in the summer. He was the guy that made me want to become a tropical meteorologist."

Moyer works for Berwyn-based Planalytics and does a lot of statistical-based work.

"A lot of what I do now is more statistical than meteorological. However, I start every day with the weather. My first task is to send out a worldwide tropical cyclone report to our financial clients. Then I prepare for our morning synoptic weather briefing, where the other meteorologists and I discuss the weather patterns for the next two weeks. After that, I usually end up coding in R (a statistical programming language) or evaluating output in Excel to better help our clients understand the impact of weather on their business."

Planalytics works with retail, agriculture, and energy interests, and others, to help them with the impact of understanding weather on their business. Organizations like Planalytics and many others are in the business of forecasting on a regular basis.


"The #1 thing is, of course, that our forecasts aren’t for public consumption," Moyer states. "Our company determines the macro scale things that affect business, so we’re looking at forecast variables longer than tonight’s overnight low or whether it will be mostly cloudy or partly cloudy on Tuesday."

"The other thing is that we have to add value. It turns out that the National Weather Service is really, really good at what they do. There’s no point in trying to compete with them for 72 hour forecasts. So we have to push the envelope and go out 10-14 days or longer in our forecasts. That means we bust (miss) more often, obviously, but we’re right more often than not and that allows our clients to get a leg up on their competition."

Adam, being in his early 30's, has been in the meteorological realm as computer modeling has taken over as an increasing piece of the science. Adam has a strong appreciation for computer modeling in the field.

"The models are more reliable than they ever have been before. As a forecaster, you should be relying on them 90% of the time. They’re really hard to beat! But, you also have to be aware of the times where you can add value to the forecast...otherwise, why would we have human meteorologists?. For example, in a winter storm situation in the Plains, you can pretty easily tell whether the models are doing a poor job handling deep, moist convective development. The models often underforecast snow amounts because they don’t deepen the surface low enough in response to convection, which means you can usually forecast more snow than what the models project in the 2-3 day range assuming you are confident in your forecast that the storm system will have convective elements."

Has the advance of computer modeling made meteorology less of a science?

"I totally disagree with the statement that computer modeling has made the forecasting element of meteorology less of a science. It has demonstrably made it more scientific. Thirty years ago, all you had were synoptic maps and primitive models and even 12 hour forecasts would bust regularly. We are so much more accurate now with both deterministic and probabilistic forecasting thanks in large part to the improvements in computer models over the last 30 years. The improved modeling has made the forecasting element less of an ART, not a science. In addition, the improvement and availability of computer models has empowered the weather hobbyist to be able to clearly see who knows what they are doing and who sells snake oil in the business."

Social media has become an increasingly important part of the business of weather and Adam finds it has its pros and cons.

"Like everything else with social media, you have to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’m a big sports fan, too, and I’m constantly culling the list of people I follow. You need to follow an Adam Schefter to get the latest NFL news, but there are also a lot of knuckleheads trying to promote themselves or be “first” without fact checking."

Sounds like a lot of people out there who think it better to break than be right.

"The same thing happens in weather. There are really good social media users in the field. Locally, I’m a big fan of your account, @GarySzatkowski – the MIC at NWS Mt. Holly, and @HurricaneNBC10 – Hurricane Schwartz, and then some that are not so much. I have much of my Twitter feed geared to synopticians, since that’s the area of meteorology I’m most focused on, and try to only the follow the ones that add value for me."

"Unfortunately, some of the most popular accounts out there are also the ones that are maybe not the highest quality sources for information."

Adam's advice to someone who is thinking of a career in meteorology?

"While you’re in middle and high school, excel at math and science. You basically have to take all the same courses in college that an engineer has to take. Make sure you love it. This is not a high paying field. You’d make at least double as an engineer versus a meteorologist out of college. Diversify your knowledge. This is a very competitive field. TV jobs are drying up and computer models are getting better."

"How can you make yourself stand out? You need to have cross discipline skills in the real world. Learn how to computer program, or get a minor in GIS, or take lots of classes in statistics like I did."