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Forecasting Sandy at the National Weather Service

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Louis W. Uccellini is the director of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which oversees nine centers, including five at the Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park.

The nine centers, which include the National Hurricane Center and the Storm Prediction Center, have about 435 federal workers and 200 contractors. NCEP prepares national and global weather, water, climate and space weather guidance, forecasts, warnings and analyses

Uccellini, who has worked at the National Weather Service since 1989, spoke Monday — for about 10 minutes — about the centers’ role in forecasting Hurricane Sandy. The following is excerpted from his comments:

We know we have to [do] well in extreme events. We gear ourselves up for that. It’s really something to see the dedication of the younger forecasters. They get all ramped up for these situations.

The younger folks are very professional. They just really focused on what they had to do. We’ve got people who brought sleeping bags and changes of clothing with them, because they’re not expecting to go home.

We had on the order of 100 folks here [at College Park on Monday], including top-level management folks. I wanted to make sure I was there, among other things to answer the phone, to make sure the forecasters could do their jobs.

There are really two phases of this job. One is getting the forecast right, bringing your experience and expertise to bear. We saw this system [Sandy] developing 10 days in advance. . . . When the [weather forecasting] models started converging, we knew it would be a dangerous situation. Our forecasters were diligent, and I believe they conveyed the right message.

The second part is that we have developed partnerships for working with emergency management and first responders in order to convey the potential dangers and ensure steps are taken for the safety of lives. You have to work with these partners and with the states as they start gearing up for these storms.

Our forecasters were ahead of this storm, and that’s an important place to be for a storm like this. We felt like we were doing our job, and doing it well.

Most of our forecasters are already looking at the next system. We’re already looking at what might be coming in the next week.

When all is said and done, this system is going to be studied for a long period of time. We have folks who are now bureau chiefs who were forecasters during the Perfect Storm in 1991.

This is certainly a unique storm, and it will go down in a historical light. This has all the ingredients of the Perfect Storm, but everything was magnified. It produced what I consider a very unique storm system, and we
haven’t seen anything like this.

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