Q & A for NHC - Eric Christensen
Tropical Analysis & Forecast Branch
National Hurricane Center
You’re one of the fresh faces in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch. How did that all begin?
Public Affairs Officer
NOAA Communications & External Affairs
National Hurricane Center
The two main missions of the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch are
marine weather and tropical weather. Coincidently, I’ve spent the bulk
of my time as a meteorologist in tropical weather, much of that in the
Air Force. I even worked on a ship for a couple of years, giving me
some background as a mariner.
The military was your initial passion?
Not really at first. I was considering studying engineering at the
University of Florida but got a scholarship from the Air Force to study
weather at Florida State University. It was the only public university
in the state of Florida at the time to offer meteorology. I had an
uncle who was an Air Force meteorologist as well, so I thought I could
follow in his footsteps to an extent and learn meteorology.
Where was your duty?
Once I got into the Air Force, a spent a good part of my active duty in
Panama learning tropical meteorology there in the early ‘90s. A small
part of my job even involved marine weather, supporting naval
amphibious operations. After leaving active duty, I worked on a NOAA
ship in coastal Alaska, and got a lot of hands-on maritime experience
there. I really enjoyed it. It was mostly an outdoors type of job in
the most beautiful parts of Alaska complete with bears, mountains,
fjords, eagles – the whole Alaska package.
Where was home?
Florida. My wife’s, too. We spent several years living in different
places around the country, to include Guam where I started in the
National Weather Service. That reinforced both my tropical and marine
forecasting skills. We spent a couple of years there and loved it, but
decided to move closer to our extended families in the southeast United
States. I transferred to the Weather Service office in Mobile, Alabama
in the late 1990’s. We spent four years there and also enjoyed that. As
luck would have it, it was about an hour away from Keesler Air Force
Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The site of the hurricane hunters?
Yes. I was able to join the Air Force Reserves and signed on with
the Hurricane Hunters after I got to Mobile. It was a real good deal
and I have been with them since 1999. It’s a very rewarding experience
to able to fly with them, especially for a meteorologist.
Any memorable storms?
There are a few including Katrina and Ike, but I spent the first three
or four years flying what they call the “tropical trash”. These are not
the glamorous hurricane missions, but the much less glamorous, but
still necessary, investigative missions. These are areas of
thunderstorms over the ocean that may or may not form into anything.
You’re flying for hours at 500 feet above the water in an area of very
bad weather out in the middle of nowhere. But it’s still fun. My first
real hurricane wasn’t until Fabian in 2003. Contrary to what you may
think, hurricanes are usually much easier to fly than a weak depression
just getting its act together - and you get all of the glory with them,
too. Yet, I can honestly say I have not had a more rewarding job no
matter what I’m flying into.
Are you still flying today?
Yes, I still do that. We moved to Miami in 2003, and I have been
commuting to Mississippi for my Reserve duty ever since. The long
commute can be a burden, but it’s worth it.
Is it still one weekend a month, two weeks out of the year?
It ends up being more than that. I have to keep my currency in the
plane, so I try travel to my reserve unit frequently. There are also
winter storms that come up outside of hurricane season. We’ll fly over
the western Atlantic and much of the Pacific gathering information for
developing winter storms. Just as with hurricanes, our data greatly
improve the accuracy of computer models that drive the forecasts.
But being an Air Force Reservist, it’s not just about weather.
No, it’s not. A lot of my training when I go up there is not about my
meteorology job. It has to do with being a member of the military and
serving my country.
You’ve recently returned from the Middle East.
I came back this past August from a tour in Iraq, my first and
only, and hopefully last tour there. It was an interesting tour. I was
a weather flight commander at a large base in central Iraq. I got a lot
of satisfaction out of serving my country. And I was able to come back
here in time to participate in hurricane season.
That’s quite a juggling act, going between the civilian job and the Reserve job.
Because they both deal with hurricanes, I am out of pocket with one
job or the other at some point during hurricane season. It’s
challenging. Fortunately, my family is used to it, and I try to make
the most of my time with my family when I can. They are the priority.
Reservists live in a life where you have three points of a triangle.
You have your civilian work, your military work, and your family. The
family has to come first. You can’t let them suffer to support the
When did you get to the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB)?
I got here in late 2006, transferring from just down the hall on
the Miami weather forecast office. And that was another great office to
work for, too. I have been very blessed to work with top notch folks
and I learn a lot from them.
The TAFB position is a good fit then.
It is. The bulk of my experience is marine meteorology; it is
something with which I have a great interest. And that’s not typical.
Marine weather is something most people don’t think of when they are
considering being a weather forecaster. And a lot of meteorologists
with the Weather Service are located at inland offices and don’t
practice marine meteorology. It is sort of a specialty, but a very
important one. There are new frontiers yet to be conquered.
Right now we are finishing up a project here whereby we will be
putting out a gridded marine data base. It’s a big advancement in the
support we give to mariners, a new way to communicate the forecast.
It’s going to allow us to better use our skills because a lot of the
work we’ve been doing in our section has been in text and low
resolution graphic production. You can’t build in a lot of detail. But
a gridded data base allows us to fine tune our information and deliver
it in a more precision way to the mariner. We can also better work with
our private sector partners, too.
And down the road?
One of the technological frontiers that I hope we conquer during my
career is forecasting ocean currents. That’s a little advanced for us
right now, but there’s a lot of interest in that and I think we’ll be
in that business before long. I’m hoping anyway.
How do you get away from everything?
When I get the time, which isn’t nearly as often as I’d like, I like to go biking, kayaking or snorkeling with my family.
Where will you be in 10 years?
Hopefully I will be doing what I am doing. I will have to leave the
hurricane hunting eventually. But beyond that, I want to keep in the
field and have my hand in the tropical and marine side of meteorology.
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