Rapid City National Weather Service Forecast Office

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING PT. 4

As we begin our morning, our days, our week, some are just getting off work. They’re finishing a long night to make the rest of our week a little safer. These are the people we’re focusing on. NewsCenter1’s Megan Murat gives us a look at what goes on while you’re sleeping. Mother nature doesn’t sleep so that means meteorologists have to keep watch at all hours of the day.

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Black Hills are no stranger to extreme weather, even holding the record for the fastest change in temperature in Spearfish.

“People’s glass broke and there was instant frost,” said National Weather Service (NWS) Senior Forecaster Eric Helgeson.

A team of meteorologists stakes out at the NWS office in Rapid City overnight to keep an eye on current observations and look ahead at the coming week.

“If it makes a difference between whether you get to work or not or if the road is icy, or whether you get heavy rain, then that’s where it really matters,” said Helgeson. “That’s where the meteorologists come into play.”

Eric Helgeson handles the forecast, looking at the big picture of the atmosphere at each level, from top to bottom. But computer models are just one tool in forecasting the weather.

“Sometimes you just know,” said Helgeson. “I don’t know that computer models are ever going to get to a point where humans aren’t going to be able to improve the forecast noticeably.”

But technology has still come a long way in improving the way information goes out.

After tweaking different areas of the forecast like precipitation, temperatures, winds and clouds, Helgeson says, “The forecast builder will take all that, ask me some questions about certain things and recombine it all into a forecast that everyone can have and see.”

On the other side of the room, Katie Pojorlie keeps track of the short term for her shift.

“Mine is more little things throughout the shift,” said Pojorlie. “I prefer this side of things because I get to stay busy the whole time.”

There can be lulls, and the big office can fall quiet.

“It’s nice to have it quiet, working with one other person,” said Pojorlie. “It’s much more relaxed.”

As they continuously update the forecast, they get that information out to the public. They create Forecast Discussions, TAF’s (terminal aerodrome forecasts), watches/warnings and weather graphics for social media, all to get the message to people.

Then, it’s time to launch the weather balloon.

After checking the settings and inputting local data and observations, the sounding sensor goes out back to attach to the balloon. Then up it goes, collecting data as it rises and sending it down to the office.

Once that’s done, the shift wraps up and the forecast they’ve been updating and sending out will give folks in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming an idea of how to plan for the rest of their day.

“We use the word impact a lot,” said Helgeson. “It really is. What is the impact on peoples’ lives?”

Watch the Series

Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Logistics Readiness Squadron, Ellsworth AFB

Wednesday, Oct. 10 – Rapid City Fire Department

Thursday, Oct. 11 – Rapid City Police Department

Friday, Oct. 12 – National Weather Service, Rapid City office

Categories: Local News, NC1 Series, While You Were Sleeping

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