A day in my life as a forecaster at the NWS in Fort Worth

A little over a decade ago, I was a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.  Prior to forecasting for North Texas, I was a tropical forecaster at the National Hurricane Center... my first full-time professional position after I completed my master's degree in 1998.   I loved working in Miami, but my scientific interests were with mid-latitude mesocale/synoptic dynamics and forecasting rather than tropical cyclones.  

Ultimately, my goal was to become a forecaster at one of four NWS offices:  Norman, Raleigh, Atlanta, or Fort Worth;  in June of 2002, as I was beginning my 4th year at the NHC, a very rare vacancy opened up at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth and I immediately submitted my bid for a transfer with a promotion as a GS-12 forecaster.  North Texas is one of the most desirable places for a meteorologist to work because of our dynamic and challenging weather, and the NWS in Fort Worth is one of the premiere forecast offices in the country. I will always be grateful to Bill Bunting, the Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) at the time, for selecting me to join the team.

Analyzing a supercell on the evening of May 15, 2003

Chris Robbins discussing a severe storm with colleagues.

During my time with the NWS, and at the NHC before that, I failed to take any photos and had very little to show for that chapter of my life and professional career. Of course, there will always exist the archives of my Tropical Forecast Discussions, Area Forecast Discussions, and a plethora of watches and warnings that I issued, to all of which I appended my last name at the end of the document ($$ Robbins).

Since I had no photo memories of my own, I had a nice surprise in my inbox in early 2016 when a professional colleague, Tim Vasquez, sent me a folder full of amazing photos from his visit to the NWS forecast office in Fort Worth on May 15, 2003. The evening of May 15, 2003 was a very busy shift for those of us on duty at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth that day. 

A few supercells developed west of the metroplex, as we had anticipated.  Prior to their development, and in coordination with the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, we issued a Tornado Watch for that part of North Texas.

I stayed late that day, following my normal day shift, to help issue warnings. A couple of tornadoes and hail to the size of baseballs were reported. Granted, this wasn't the biggest severe weather event that I've worked, but it's the only one for which I have photos. It was a team effort, with two or three of us issuing warnings while the public and aviation forecasters issued routine forecast products. Among the images below, I have included two of the warnings that I issued that night.

My Decision to Enter the Private Sector

I clearly took a big risk when I decided to leave the federal service in pursuit of self employment as a private sector meteorologist. It was a decision that I agonized over for at least 2 years prior and I was actually weighing my options when I was still at the NHC.  Fortunately, self employment worked out very well for me; after all, most new small businesses fail within the first two years. I resigned from the National Weather Service with lifetime reinstatement eligibility, so I knew that if things didn't work out for me in the business world, I could rejoin my NWS family. Working at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth will always be one of the greatest privileges of my professional career.

My Advocacy for the National Weather Service

Twelve years later, and business is still going strong. However, the NWS is still a big part of who I am; those experiences molded me, and the wonderful people that I worked with are my extended family. I have fought tooth and nail on behalf of the NWS since 2011 to help mitigate congressional budget cuts by running large public awareness campaigns. We encouraged the public to contact their representatives and push for an end to the hiring freezes, layoffs, and staff shortages. I did that because I care about the agency, I believe in its mission, and I wanted to give back to the organization that kicked off my career at two of the most prestigious centers for atmospheric prediction: The National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Fort Worth. My hope is that my colleagues know how much I care about them and treasure our experiences together so many years ago.

Al Moller: My Friend, Mentor, and Fellow Sooner

Finally, the greatest privilege of all was the opportunity to work with the late Al Moller (pictured below). He was my friend and mentor. I recall working many entertaining midnight shifts with Al.  Granted, midnight shifts are never fun; but when I worked with Al, they were never boring. We had some interesting discussions about complex meteorological concepts and forecasting techniques. Al would regale with stories of storm chasing on the High Plains with our mutual friend, Chuck Doswell. He loved to share his amazing photography with me, and he would often bring slides in to show me some of the extraordinary supercells that he seen during his career and many images of the beautiful countryside that he had seen along the way.

Al Moller at the NWS in Fort Worth

Al Moller analyzing data (NWS in Fort Worth)

Al Moller's hourly surface analyses.

Al Moller believed that every forecast process should begin with hand analyses, not only of the surface data, but even critical levels aloft -- particularly when severe weather is a concern.

Al was an extraordinary scientist and we actually had a lot in common.  Like I, he earned his master's degree from the OU School of Meteorology.  He aimed to bridge the research and operational communities and he enjoyed contributing his research to the formal literature.  I enjoy those things also.  He instilled in me the importance of doing hand analyses before looking at the numerical models, because by analyzing the data with a set of colored pencils, you see subtle details that objective analyses techniques (i.e., analyzed by a computer program) typically smooth over.  Many young forecasters fail to see the importance of this practice, and that's a shame.

Vintage 2003 Photos from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth

Tim Vasquez took these images on the night of May 15, 2003 while visiting the office during severe weather operations.

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