Exploring past, present & future: Q&A with Bob Rabin

Bob Rabin

During February, as part of NOAA’s Heritage Week, NSSL will feature some of its longest-serving employees. Those employees will share their favorite experiences from through the years, and highlight some of the most significant changes they have witnessed.

Bob Rabin has been a research scientist at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory for nearly 40 years. Rabin has been a part of several studies, from the Severe Environmental Storm and Mesoscale Experiment in the late 1970s, which sampled Southern Plains storm activity, to working with NOAA and NASA on geo weather satellites. Rabin is also actively involved in the lab’s diversity and inclusion committee and outreach.

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: I have had a natural attraction to observing the weather and watching the sky ever since I was very young, third grade or earlier. I think my field found me, rather than the other way around! One of my grade school teachers commented on my “report card” that I had “my head in the clouds” rather than in class, because I spent so much time gazing out the window!

Q: Describe the path leading up to your current job.

A: My interest in a “weather” career started in grade school. I started writing letters to broadcast stations and to weather bureaus in high school to find out the requirements to work in the field. Jobs were hard to come by. I was fortunate to work at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory for a summer between my undergraduate and graduate studies. I went to school in Canada at McGill University. A year after graduating, I was hired at NSSL as a full time, temporary employee.

Q: What are you most proud of during your time at NSSL or what is the most significant achievement of your career?
A: In the early years, I helped find new uses of Doppler radar wind observations outside of clouds, in clear air. This led to implementation of a technique used for wind profiling, the VAD, which is still used operationally by the NOAA National Weather Service today. In addition, discovering the impact of large-scale agriculture on temperature and cloud patterns. This led to recognition of the “hot box,” an area of elevated temperatures in north central Oklahoma, following the winter wheat harvest in the summertime.

Q: What is it about your job that interests and engages you?
A: New discoveries. Exploring observations from new satellite sensors. Sharing my excitement with young people.

Q: What is the most significant advancement in your field during your time at NOAA?

A: Technological advancements in communication and computing have had a profound effect, as they have on all aspects of life.

Rabin rides his bike or takes public transportation whenever possible. He rarely missed a day biking to work while stationed at the Cooperative Institute of Satellite Studies in Wisconsin during the 1990s.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

A: I rarely used a car to go to school or work. I’ve been able to rely almost totally on public transportation or bike. Riding in snow is a good workout and can be fun if you’re on a bike trail! The coldest temperature I experienced while biking to work in Wisconsin was -27 F!
I am enrolled in the Iñupiaq studies program at IỊisaġvik College in Alaska.

Q: What is your personal philosophy?
A: We should respect ourselves and others. Be grateful for what we have and for the beauty around us.

Q: Where is your favorite place to be?
A: I enjoy being outside in all weather conditions. This is probably why I always ride a bike to work. Also, I love Montreal!

Q: What is the future of your area of research?
A: We don’t know with any certainty. However, I think incorporating the role of aerosols on clouds and precipitation may be significant. Also, improved long-range forecasting — seasonal and longer.

Q: How do you define success?
A: Happiness and satisfaction with life and the world around us.

Bob Rabin occasionally travels to Alaska. In 2013 and 2014, he helped teach science, technology, engineering and math focused camps for Native Alaska students at IỊisaġvik College in Alaska. Here he is with some of the students atop a building where radar is installed to monitor ice cover in the ocean.
Bob Rabin near a marker of bowhead whale bones on the shore of the Arctic Ocean.
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Senior research scientist recently awarded prestigious honor

Alexander Ryzhkov accepted the award of Fellow during the annual American Meteorological Society in January in Austin, Texas. (Photo by AMS)

The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is proud to announce the American Meteorological Society named one of its senior research scientists a Fellow, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the atmospheric sciences during a substantial period of years.

Alexander Ryzhkov was one of more than 30 individuals recognized by AMS during a recent announcement of 2018 award winners and Fellows. Ryzhkov was awarded the prestigious honor during the annual meeting in January in Austin, Texas.

Fellows are nominated by their peers and elected each year by the AMS Council.

Ryzhkov has worked for The University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at NOAA NSSL for more than 20 years. His primary research goals are developing operational algorithms for quantitative precipitation estimation, hydrometeor classification, and microphysical retrievals using polarimetric radars, and utilizing polarimetric radars for the improvement of Numerical Weather Prediction model performance.

He received a Ph.D. in radio science and a Master’s degree in physics.from St. Petersburg University.

Ryzhkov is in the company of other AMS fellows including NSSL Director Steve Koch and NSSL researchers Harold Brooks, Don Burgess and Dusan Zrnic.

For a full list of 2018 awards and fellows, visit AMS.

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Information analysis: social science adds needed piece to the weather puzzle

Research Scientist Jack Friedman with University of Oklahoma Center for Applied Social Research observes and works in the National Weather Forecast Office in Huntsville, Alabama. Friedman is one of the several social science researchers involved in the VORTEX-Southeast project spring 2017 experiment. (NOAA NSSL)

Increasing our knowledge of severe storms and improving the tools used to forecast them has been the singular mission of the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory since it was formed more than 50 years ago — until recently. Now NSSL researchers are expanding their focus to include people — how they receive, understand and interact with weather information.

A new report released this month by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes that realizing the greatest return on investment from significant improvements in weather information will require a better understanding of how individuals, households and communities respond to weather forecasts, watches and warnings.

NSSL is already doing many of the recommendations mentioned in the report, said Kim Klockow, a research associate working at NSSL with the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies. Dozens of researchers are integrating disciplines such as communication, psychology and education into the traditional meteorological research at NSSL.

“Meteorologists care about saving lives and property, and ultimately those goals depend on the actions people choose to take,” Klockow said. “Information is just one piece of the puzzle. Providing the public with information about possible dangers doesn’t stop the threats from having an impact, and it alone doesn’t motivate people to take action.

“In our research at NSSL, we have to account for the ways people understand what we’re saying, the things they’re able to do, and the things that motivate them.”

Klockow leads a new societal impacts group at NSSL created to ensure new technologies are useful and usable by the public, emergency managers and public broadcasters. Several recent projects are highlighted below.

Research in the Hazardous Weather Testbed

Each year, NSSL invites broadcast meteorologists, emergency managers and National Weather Service forecasters to the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed in Norman, Oklahoma, to test new technology developed at NSSL and within NOAA.

“Our research needs to engage those who will be using it,” Klockow said. “We have them test what our researchers have developed to see if they can use it, or will use it.”

Next year, the researchers plan to invite larger private sector companies to participate in testbed experiments. These forecasters may provide new insights, Klockow said.

The NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed during the Spring 2017 experiment about the Geostationary Lighting Mapper. (Photo by James Murnan/ NOAA NSSL)

People’s responses to warnings
Recently, NSSL teamed up with OU’s Center for Risk and Crisis Management to analyze how the public receives and acts on weather warnings. This project, part of the broader Probability of What project, is to study the effectiveness of the current warning infrastructure. This information will help NSSL measure the impacts new technologies might have on the public.

“We are looking at providing more information between a watch and warning to fill the information gap and provide up to an hour of advanced notice for all kinds of severe weather,” Klockow said. “We need to know if it will be beneficial to people — if they will use that information — or if giving a slew of probabilities may be more difficult to understand.”

The POW research team is conducting nationwide surveys and small experiments to measure the public’s understanding of weather information.

Social science integral part of tornado study
How emergency managers and forecasters handle information during hazardous weather events is an important part of VORTEX-Southeast, a research program studying storms and tornadoes in the southeastern United States.

“VORTEX-SE is the first time social science has been integrated into a weather field campaign,” Klockow said. “When the physical science researchers deploy to the field, so do the social science researchers.”

Klockow said social scientists have embedded with local emergency managers and National Weather Service forecasters, studying how they receive information, process that information, and relay it to the public.

“We see if there are any information gaps, points of confusion, or breaks in the communication channels and how the process may be improved,” Klockow said.

Studying the latest technology
Part of informing the public about weather affecting them includes staying apprised of the latest and greatest technology. Klockow is researching the ATSC 3.0, a new television broadcast system offering more options, including advanced emergency alerts.

“It will fundamentally change the way TV works, so someone can point to the TV with their remote and get more detailed or local information during severe weather coverage,” Klockow said. “The viewer could pull up radar, probability plumes defined by NSSL research or timelines. This offers an amazing opportunity to get more information to the user. We have to make sure we are aware of this new technology and get it in sync with our research designs.”

Whether studying the structure of a thunderstorm, developing a new radar algorithm, improving a weather forecasting model, or analyzing the ways people receive weather information — every project at NSSL has at its heart the goal of minimizing the impacts of hazardous weather on society.

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Women of NSSL: Kim Klockow

Kim Klockow

For the month of October NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is publishing a series of stories highlighting some of the women working at the lab. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday in October.

Kim Klockow is research scientist at The Unversity of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies. Working with NOAA NSSL, her research involves behavioral science focused on weather and climate risk, especially issues in the communication of forecast uncertainty and hazardous weather warnings.

Q: How did you get into weather or your field?
A: Like many in the field, I had some frightening experiences with tornadoes during childhood, including one notable case where a large tornado hadn’t received any warning. Those experiences motivated me to learn more about severe weather, but also to understand the human element and how risks could be conveyed more effectively. What started as a motivated interest grew into a lifelong mission to improve our country’s weather resiliency.

Q: Describe the path leading up to your current job.
A: My career really began when I was a doctoral student. As an interdisciplinary scholar with interests in both human behavior and meteorology, I quickly found I was going to have to create my own path. After earning my Ph.D, I received a fellowship to work as a science adviser in the U.S. Senate, and from there worked at NOAA headquarters for several years on policy for social scientific research in the agency. Those experiences have been invaluable to me as I’ve now returned to Norman to help the NOAA National Severe Storms Lab create a group dedicated to social and behavioral science research.

Q: What educational background helped you get to your career today?
A: I received Bachelor of Science degrees in meteorology and economics with concentrations in communication and psychology. From there I went on to get an Master of Science in professional meteorology with an economics concentration, and a Ph.D. in human geography. I took Ph.D. level courses in seven different departments as part of my graduate studies — I wasn’t kidding when I said I had to make my own path!


Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

A: As much as I’m proud of the career I’ve built, the effort I’m proudest to have been a part of is the Loveworks, Inc. program based in Norman. Early on in my graduate work, I helped launch a mentorship program for at-risk middle school youth that has now grown to include every middle school in the city and has reached more than 1,000 students. Working to cultivate the local community kept me sane through the challenges and doubt that surrounded my graduate path.

Q: What is one thing you couldn’t live without at work?
A: Coffee. Sadly. I’ve been an addict since those U.S. Senate days – the “marbled halls of congress” are real, and in the winter, they’re frigid. When my fingers got too cold to type I turned to coffee, and once you turn to coffee there’s apparently no turning back.

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Women of NSSL: Jian Zhang

Jian Zhang, NOAA NSSL research meteorologist.

For the month of October NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is publishing a series of stories highlighting some of the women working at the lab. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday in October.

Jian Zhang is a research meteorologist of NOAA NSSL’s Warning Research and Development Division. Zhang completed her Ph.D at The University of Oklahoma in 1999. She worked with the OU Cooperative Institute for Mesosocale Meteorological Studies until 2009 when she became a federal employee.

Q: How did you get into weather?
A: My father was a mechanical engineer and his appreciation for the intricate regularities of math and physics and a passion for solving real-world problems had a big influence on me. As a result, I chose atmospheric physics/meteorology as my major in college and have stayed in the field ever since.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: My job is to produce accurate precipitation information for every square kilometer of the U.S. in a timely manner. Such information is critical across several sectors of the U.S. economy and for the protection and well being of the communities. Seeing my job has direct impacts and benefits in the real world interests me.

Q: Tell us about a project or accomplishment you consider to be the most significant in your career?
A: The most significant project of my career is the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor system for which I am one of the main developers. ​The MRMS​ project provides people with severe weather and flash flood information at an unprecedented resolution down to the street scale.


Q: What is your personal philosophy?

A: Kind. Diligent. Intelligent.

Q: What would you most like to tell your younger self?
A: ​I would like to tell my younger self to be more critically thinking since I grew up in a culture and environment that valued collective interests more than individual interests – especially for women – and valued old wisdom more than adventures.

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Women of NSSL: Jami Boettcher

Jami Boettcher, OU CIMMS and NOAA NSSL research assistant

For the month of October NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is publishing a series of stories highlighting some of the women working at the lab. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday in October.

Jami Boettcher is a research assistant with The University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at NOAA NSSL’s Radar Research and Development Division. She is a radar meteorologist working with two teams of scientists on possible future radar technologies. Boettcher has previously worked for the National Weather Service and has taught as an adjunct at a variety of institutions.

Q: Describe the path leading up to your current job.
A: The first 10 years of my National Weather Service career were in operations as a meteorologist and then as a hydrologist. I next spent 23 years as an NWS instructor at the Warning Decision Training Division, where my training emphasis was on NEXRAD Radar Principles and the impacts on operations of NEXRAD software and hardware upgrades.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: Radar, radar, and did I forget to mention radar? More precisely, radar based data quality for National Weather Service forecast and warning operations.

Q: What is your personal philosophy?
A: I’ll call this an aspiration, which means I don’t always succeed: Be patient, respectful, kind, and listen, because everyone you interact with has their own wounds, whether they know it or not.


Q: What does true leadership mean to you?

A: I want to follow leaders who have a core belief that everyone has something to contribute, and provide the patience and attention required to mix those contributions in the best way possible. I prefer leaders who convey interest in people, who know when to direct, when to inspire, and when to get out of the way.

Q:Who is your role model and why?
A: Though she is no longer physically with us, Liz Quoetone. Through decades as co-workers, we explored the nooks and crannies of the human experience. She taught me the power of compassion, patience, and kindness, while she nudged the culture of the NWS toward recognizing the human element of warning operations.

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Women of NSSL: PaTrina Gregory

PaTrina Gregory, NOAA NSSL administrative officer

For the month of October NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is publishing a series of stories highlighting some of the women working at the lab. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday in October.

PaTrina Gregory is the administrative officer at NOAA NSSL and as such she is the leader of the NSSL Director’s Office team who oversee all matters related budgets, grants, property, leases, personnel, and procurements. She ensures the entire laboratory functions efficiently and is able to complete its scientific mission. As a result of her exceptional work, she has received several awards and recognitions. Gregory joined NSSL in 2014.

Q: Describe the path leading up to your current job.
A: I competed for a professional development/career internship when working at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. I successfully completed the three year internship and became an administrative officer and I have been doing it ever since. I joined NSSL in 2014.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
A: I’ve flown a Cessna, a glider, and a powered parachute. I’ve also sky dived, scuba dived, rode on a snuba and I drive motorcycles…but I absolutely hate public speaking.

Q: What is your personal philosophy?
A: Be kind to people…you never know what’s going on inside of them…if you can’t make them better, don’t dare make them worse.


Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your life thus far?

A: Growing up quickly! My mom died from cancer when I was 18 and while those pressures in life pushed me to maturity, I like that I’m still quite silly — or I try to make everyone smile and laugh.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: Someone willing to get into the trenches with their staff, who supports them, trains them and corrects them in a kind fashion and ensures that the organization is better when they leave than it was when they arrived.

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Women of NSSL: Pam Heinselman

For the month of October NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is publishing a series of stories highlighting some of the women working at the lab. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday in October.

Pam Heinselman is the acting division chief of the Forecast Research Development Division and Warn-on-Forecast program manager. Heinselman has been a research scientist with the Lab since March 2009 and received a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering in 2009 as well.

Q: How did you get into weather or your field?
A: When I was in kindergarten I was afraid of thunderstorms. That fear turned into a curiosity about the weather and a desire to become a meteorologist.

Q: What advice would you provide to up and coming meteorologists or others in your field?
A:  Advice I would provide to up-and-coming meteorologist or others in my field is to determine what you enjoy doing most within your field and gain the experience you need to do it. Life is too short to do something you do not enjoy.

Q: What is your personal philosophy?
A: My personal philosophy is well stated by Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Q: What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had?
A: The most unusual job I’ve ever had is making and selling donuts when I was 16 years old. I ate so many donuts that I haven’t eaten one since.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: To me true leadership is a combination of vision, bringing forth change to the benefit of others, and providing a work environment in which people can be creative, grow, and excel.

Q: If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
A: If I could do another job for just one day, I would be a Zumba Instructor at a gym because I love to dance.

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Hurricane Harvey offers unprecedented data for NSSL researcher

As Hurricane Harvey came ashore along the Texas coast, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Sean Waugh managed to do what no one has done before — he launched a weather balloon in the eye of the hurricane. The data recorded by the balloon’s instruments as it circled Harvey’s eyewall were record-breaking and confusing, and will require time and research to explain.

“This was the first observation of its kind,” Waugh said. “No one has ever seen this type of data, some of the values are exceptionally high and we are still trying to determine what those values mean.”

An image of the observations NOAA NSSL Researcher Sean Waugh saw after launching a weather balloon in the eye of the hurricane. (Photo by Sean Waugh/NOAA NSSL)

The eyewall is the edge of the eye of the hurricane — the strongest area of the storm. Two measurements from the balloon launch were particularly interesting. The first was a wind profile that produced computed values higher than ever observed, indicating its use in these circumstances may not be correct. The second, a measurement of potential rain, was also extreme, and may have been an early indication of the unprecedented flooding produced by Harvey.

The NOAA NSSL mobile mesonet in Texas before Hurricane Harvey came ashore. (Photo by Sean Waugh/NOAA NSSL)

The balloon launch was one part of Waugh’s efforts to collect data in the path of Hurricane Harvey. From a truck with roof mounted instruments called a mobile mesonet, he recorded observations of rain, wind, temperature and humidity for an extended period of time.

Gathering the data was not a task for the faint of heart. Before and after the balloon launch, Waugh experienced high winds — nearly 100 miles per hour — while sitting in the heavy mobile mesonet truck.

Waugh coordinated on this project with scientists from The University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. The university team collected data with their radar-equipped truck.

Over time, Waugh hopes to better understand this unprecedented data set, and how it can contribute to a greater understanding of hurricanes and the tornadoes they produce.

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NSSL stages equipment near Hurricane Harvey

NSSL Researcher Sean Waugh with the mobile mesonet. (Photo provided)

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Sean Waugh will collect weather data in the path of Hurricane Harvey Friday to record how the landfalling hurricane changes as it develops.

The first major hurricane forecast to make landfall in the Gulf Coast in 12 years provides an opportunity to study its development and any potential development of tornadoes.

“While tornadoes are relatively rare in environments associated with landfalling hurricanes, if they occur they can have large impacts,” Waugh said.

Waugh will use a truck with roof mounted instruments called a mobile mesonet to record observations of Hurricane Harvey for an extended period of time. The instruments and weather balloons will record rain, wind and temperature. He will work with scientists from The University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. The team is utilizing the university’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies SMART radar truck.

Researchers will monitor how the hurricane’s structure changes during landfall as well as temperature changes and wind on the surface. Scientists will test a  new instrument developed at NSSL that measures rain size and distribution to help with flood forecasts. Information gathered will be shared with National Weather Service forecasters.

NOAA NSSL and partners are studying the development of tornadoes in the Southeast U.S. in order to improve their prediction through  VORTEX-Southeast.

For more information about Hurricane Harvey and the current forecast: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/#harvey.

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