26 February 2014

Extreme weather: Behind the scenes

At the March 4 Science Café, you can learn from NWS forecaster and former storm chaser Jeff Evans about the science of storm predictions and more.

By KATHLEEN LAUFENBERG

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Atlanta’s recent snowstorm pushed the city to its knees, with abandoned cars and stranded people seeking shelter wherever they could. It was the type of nightmare scenario weather forecasters strive to avoid.

Jeff EvansMeteorologist Jeff Evans (center) will speak at the MagLab's March café.But emergency weather forecasting is both a science and an art — and much happens behind the scenes at the National Weather Service (NWS) before most of us ever hear about a potential storm. At the March 4 Science Café, you can learn from NWS forecaster and former storm chaser Jeff Evans about the science of storm predictions, how decisions are made to issue hurricane watches and warnings, and what you should do when extreme weather comes calling in your neighborhood.

“Forecasting is exciting work because every day, it’s a new puzzle,” said Evans, the warning coordination meteorologist for Tallahassee’s NWS. “It’s almost like being a detective because you are trying to find out what is going to happen. It’s also a very humbling job.”

The MagLab’s Science Café runs from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, at Backwoods Bistro. Come early to order and get a good seat.

Evans, 45, works in one of the NWS’s 125 offices across the country; his is on the Florida State University campus, in a building designed to withstand hurricane winds.

“We are here 24-7,” he said. “We are forecasting around the clock.”

His office is responsible for making weather predictions for the Tallahassee airport as well as four other area airports. Only the NWS, not your local weather TV forecaster, can issue hurricane watches and warnings. And sometimes, he allowed TV meteorologists might not agree with the NWS call.

Here in Tallahassee, we are blessed with a lot of beautiful weather, and rarely do hurricanes directly hit us. Yet that can foster complacency, he said.

“My biggest fear with a hurricane coming here is that people are not going to believe it until it hits. It’s been 120 years since we have had a major hurricane hit us here in Tallahassee. But it’s just a matter of time before we are hit here.”

The 1985 storm, Hurricane Kate, that devastated Tallahassee was producing winds of about 100 mph when it made landfall on Crooked Island near Mexico Beach. As it moved ashore, it sent an 11-foot storm surge across Cape San Blas. About 90 percent of Tallahassee’s residents lost power, some for a week or more. It was the first hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle since Hurricane Eloise in 1975.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.