Melissa Huffman Q&A

Melissa Huffman ('12 M.P.A.) (Photo by Ahna Hubnik)Melissa Huffman ('12 M.P.A.)
League City, Texas

Lessons from Harvey:
The work that has been done to improve forecasts is paying off. Models talked about the potential for unprecedented rainfall for days in advance of the storm. More importantly, Harvey taught me a lot about messaging catastrophic events -- how important it is to explain the impacts.

Changes in technology:
Two big advances are helping meteorologists. Dual-polarization radar provides improved rainfall estimates, which is important for flood events, and knowledge of different types of precipitation in winter weather events. And a new weather satellite, GOES-16, provides more high-resolution data. It's like going from a black-and-white TV to an HD color TV. It helps us issue warnings and improves tropical cyclone forecasts.

Talking weather:
One of the more imaginative questions I get from children is "Do tornadoes have eyes?" Sometimes videos seen in the news or online give the appearance of a tornado "following" or moving intentionally toward people or property. Tornadoes can move in any direction and do not seek out things to destroy. Probably the biggest misconception is that each type of storms ― hurricane, thunderstorm, tornado, winter weather ― will all behave like the ones people have experienced before. No two weather events are the same and can result in dramatically different impacts. Overcoming this misconception is a huge challenge when it comes to getting people to take action to protect themselves from weather.

Advice for students interested in becoming meteorologists:
A passion for the weather as well as a strong background in math and physics is very important. It's critical to seek out internships or ways to gain experience in the field. There are many different types of meteorologists, including researchers, broadcasters and forecasters. Get exposure to the different areas to determine which is right for you.

Faculty encouragement:
Professor Bob Bland was a great help to me. My first year, he connected me with a UNT alumna, Melissa Patterson ('01 M.P.A.), who worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center. At the time, it wasn't common for someone with a meteorology undergraduate degree to get an M.P.A. James Kendra, one of my professors in the program, who now works with the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center, was phenomenal in helping me go beyond natural disasters and think about the weather's role in technological hazards. In my work, I could be dealing with a ship collision or chemical spill caused by weather. I also was a research assistant to Professor Lisa Dicke, and she supported me as I went from a hard science background to political science and social sciences.

Memorable moment:
Attending the UNT Homecoming game in 2011. It was the 50th year of the M.P.A. program, and students, professors and alumni gathered on the field and were recognized during the game. It was amazing to see how many people the program had impacted over the years.

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