The Forecast for Forecasters

James LaDue ’86National weather scientist James LaDue ’86 discussed extreme natural disasters and the state of meteorology during a presentation last semester in the Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation.

“Forecasting science has drastically improved,” said LaDue, who earned a B.S. in meteorology at Oswego. “We can tell with pretty good confidence where there will be a tornado. But while forecasting has improved, getting the desired reaction from the public remains a challenge.”

LaDue, a meteor­ologist instructor at the National Weather Service Warning Decision Training
Branch in Norman, Okla., said NWS is working to improve communications with the public, and mobile technologies can help NWS customize warnings to people based on their specific location.

“We can’t issue a one-size fits all warning and accommodate everyone,” he said. “Warnings have to be personalized.”

Through his work, he has witnessed devastating destruction as well as stories of good planning, preparation and execution of emergency plans. LaDue shared ideas of how we can improve the resiliency of our communities to severe weather through smarter building construction, different kinds of materials and better design.

He concluded the talk by predicting the future role of the human forecaster in meteorology will be more about risk management and interpretation of data than on creating models and calculating statistics, which computers are already doing better and faster than humans.

“I encourage meteorology students to take courses in crisis communications, risk management and human behavior in addition to their meteorology courses,” he said.

—Margaret Spillett

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