The National Weather Service
From the Perspective of a Student Volunteer

By Kathryn Prociv

What do I have to say about working at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg?  I’m afraid this small newsletter will not suffice.  Even if I confined my page limit to the amount of lightning strikes that occur around the world each day (8 million), or the measly number of raindrops it would take to fill a teaspoon (120), I still couldn’t fit every experience onto the pages.  Between the projects I’ve completed, what I’ve learned, and the relationships I’ve built, there’s just so much to share, so here goes!

I began working at the National Weather Service during my second semester as a freshman doing an independent study in conjunction with Virginia Tech University.  The plan for my independent study included working ten hours a week for the entire semester, while receiving three course credits.   I looked forward to working everyday because there was always something new to learn whether it was how to create looping radar images, new weather terminology, or how to find climate data.  One project really enriched my experience, and that was making warning verification calls to local spotters.  I thoroughly enjoyed this task because it allowed me to speak to people around the area and get a taste of the local color!  In addition to the individual projects that enriched my knowledge in meteorology, the most invaluable experiences came from the time I spent sitting with and observing the meteorologists.

While sitting with the meteorologists, I was allowed to observe as they updated the grids, issued products, and discussed all things weather!  Each meteorologist was eager and willing to teach me; whether it involved how to update weather grids, input products, or launch a weather balloon!  The personal interaction with the meteorologists allowed me to not only gain first-hand knowledge regarding meteorology, but it also enabled me to build professional relationships which eventually turned into a general rapport with everyone; my daily conversations went from the general “I’m Kathryn Prociv, a major in Geography at Virginia Tech, and I’ve always loved storms”, to debates over “do you spell it ‘tornados or tornadoes?’”  Now, as I continue to volunteer I’m even more familiar with everyone, the office, and my responsibilities that it’s no surprise it’s a great atmosphere!  (Pun intended.)

I mentioned I am a student at Virginia Tech University.  Although I am an aspiring Meteorologist, VT unfortunately does not have a Meteorology Program yet. So for now I am a  Geography major.  However, don’t despair!  The Geography Department, with the leadership of Dave Carroll, is working on building a Meteorology program currently with three classes added this year already!  The National Weather Service here in Blacksburg is also involved with making a Meteorology program a reality by offering help in any way they can.  For example, both Steve Keighton and Phil Hysell came into the Introduction to Applied Meteorology I class as guest lecturers, and are also planning to come into the current Severe Weather class to offer the Advanced Spotter Training Course.  The partnership between the Geography Department and the NWS is like the updraft to the cumulus cloud; the perfect storm!  Hopefully, as more people show interest and get involved in the budding Meteorology program, it will soon be a reality!

The time I spend while at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg is truly invaluable both educationally and emotionally.  Although Virginia Tech does not yet offer a degree in Meteorology, working here restored my hope of becoming a Meteorologist.  Even though a degree may say a lot, I feel the experience I’m gaining can outweigh that inhibitor.  I’ve had so many opportunities of gaining hands-on experience that I could not gain in a classroom, as well as professional and academic advice from the Meteorologists that I will value always.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why I loved working here was the fact that I got to be around weather lovers like myself, a feat not often possible among my peers or in any other working environment!  My time here only enhanced my already immense respect for the science and profession of Meteorology.  I will forever remember the lessons learned, skills acquired, and relationships gained while working here, and plan to continue helping throughout my college career. 

Although I managed to squeeze all of my memories and experiences from the National Weather Service into a short newsletter, what I’ve chosen to write about only represents the tip of the iceberg.  As a student and aspiring meteorologist, I truly could not ask for a better opportunity or a more gratifying experience.  Thanks to everyone and everything at the National Weather Service, I’m ready to take the world by storm!