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5 Questions with... Chris Geelhart, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service at Lincoln
5 QUESTIONS WITH | CHRIS GEELHART

5 Questions with... Chris Geelhart, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service at Lincoln

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Name: Chris Geelhart

Occupation: Lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Lincoln

City of residence: Bloomington

1. What got you interested in weather and becoming a meteorologist?

My interest in weather extends way back into my childhood. Around the time I was in kindergarten, I was greatly afraid of storms. My mom suggested I get a library book on weather, and if I learned why storms occurred, I would be less afraid. My interest has never wavered since then.

2. What type of education and training did you receive? 

I started as a meteorological technician, so my path to being a meteorologist was a little different than usual. I completed my education as a combination of traditional college courses, as well as correspondence and online courses. A typical meteorologist in the National Weather Service usually has at least a Bachelor's degree in meteorology or atmospheric science, and many have also completed graduate studies.

Once a meteorologist joins the NWS, he or she will also receive extensive training on interpretation and use of Doppler radar. We have also recently received training on the latest generation of weather satellites. Each office has a Science and Operations Officer that makes sure the staff meteorologists are able to incorporate the latest research into our jobs.

3. Can you tell readers a bit about how weather is predicted? Has technology helped this process?

Weather prediction is a combination of using computer models of the atmosphere, observations of the present weather, and our knowledge of what should be happening in a given situation. A computer model is programmed with mathematics and physics equations, to take the current weather and make projections of future weather conditions. A meteorologist learns how to recognize biases in the models, and make corrections while formulating the forecast.

At times, none of the models seem to have it right, which can make the job quite frustrating. However, new and better models are tested and implemented, and new technology such as our next generation satellite network adds valuable information to the forecast process. While we often hear the joke about how "it must be nice to be wrong half the time and still have a job," forecast accuracy has steadily improved over the years, and most people don't realize that.

4. What is the scariest weather you have covered?

My entire career (first in South Dakota, then in Illinois) has been in areas where tornadoes are a major concern. I was involved in the forecast process leading up to the November 17, 2013, EF-4 tornado in Washington, IL. Though I was not at work at the time of the tornado, knowing the potential of what could happen was scary. Seeing the devastation it left behind was very sobering. If the thunderstorm had formed another 5-10 miles to the west, the tornado would have left Peoria in shambles.

5. What is the best part about your job?

The best part of my job is working in a field I love. Granted, the hours aren't the best (weather is a 24x7 business), and I have worked many holidays instead of celebrating with family. However, there is a satisfaction in knowing your forecasts and warnings help people. Maybe it's someone that postponed some work that could have been ruined by rain, or someone that had a close call with a tornado or flash flood. But the NWS serves the public; as we sometimes say, "our last name is Service."


Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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