Get to Know OPC - Hugh McRandal

Image of Hugh McRandal, Marine Forecaster, Ocean Forecast Branch, Ocean Prediction Center Hugh McRandal
Marine Forecaster
Ocean Forecaster Branch
Ocean Prediction Center

What first got you interested in weather?

When I was in 8th grade I got involved in Earth Sciences, looking at weather, and trying to catalog and understand it. From there, I decided to produce my own weather diary in the 8th and 9th grade.

Where did you attend college?

I attended college at the Penn State University in University Park, PA. The reason why I picked that school was because it was an in-state school, and it turned out to be one of the leading schools in Meteorology. I then went to graduate school. The main reason I went to graduate school was because in the mid-70s it was very hard to find a job right off. I went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and found out they had a small meteorology student centered department with faculty who were dedicated to graduate student mentors. I was able to do a number of interesting activities…like going on a field project to India to study the monsoons.

How long have you been a Meteorologist or Marine Forecaster?

I started, job-wise, in 1981. The reason why I got into Marine Meteorology was because my first job was forecasting for a company that dealt with offshore drilling rigs. I did that for almost 2 years, and then lo and behold the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyoming called me for a job. For almost 8 years I didn’t do any marine forecasting as I was working at the local forecast office. At that time, the Cheyenne WFO forecast for the whole state of Wyoming. We had to do a zone package for the whole state from Yellowstone National Park all the way to the southeast part of the state where Cheyenne was located. In 1989, I got wind that the National Weather Service was going into modernization. They were going to start consolidating some weather forecast products and bring them in National Centers…like marine forecasting.

How long have you been with the OPC & how were you hired?

I’ve been with OPC since its founding. OPC was found on the basis of the Marine Satellite branch of the Weather Forecast Branch of the National Meteorological Center. We were hired to do a hemispheric analysis, high seas forecasting, aviation forecasting like SIGMETS for convection over the oceans. Also, another big function was the satellite interpretation messages for over the oceans. When the powers that be formed the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), they drew upon that group to form the nucleus of the Marine Prediction Center (the original name for the OPC) at the time.

What’s the hardest thing about being a Meteorologist?

The hardest part is the shift-work, mainly because it disrupts you sometimes with interaction between the work environment and off work environment.

What is your favorite part of the job?

The favorite part of the job is getting paid to look at the weather.

When it comes to weather, what’s your favorite aspect?

I’ve enjoyed doing surface analysis and have really enjoyed marine forecasting. I’ve tried a little bit of severe weather when I was in Cheyenne, but that was a little too fast paced. What I did like but didn’t know how to expand upon was fire weather meteorology. I was assistant fire weather meteorologist in Cheyenne and that turned out to be interesting.

What is the most memorable weather event that you’ve worked through?

I would have to say that three events come to light right away. One was when I was in the private industry and we were forecasting for the Ocean Ranger, a semisubmersible drilling rig that capsized off the Canadian coast near Newfoundland. It turned out later that the design of the rig made it vulnerable to very high waves. I still remember to this day we were forecasting the weather and telling the people, "It’s bad, so you better get your people off."

The second one was a very big storm that hit the coast of Maine, and I was still writing the High Seas Forecasts. That’s the storm that messed up President Bush’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The last one occurred just recently and caught my fancy. It was the storm that went through the Gulf of Maine in the last part of March 2014.

Personally do you have an exciting weather story to share?

Personally, I was forecasting during the summer in Cheyenne, WY, and I was working the Public Desk. I was talking with the lead forecaster at the time, and I said that I was going to put hail in the forecast. I got off of work at 4pm and went to dinner…after coming out of the diner I saw towering Cumulonimbus clouds. Then returning to my place in NW Cheyenne and hail began to fall. I said, "Oh boy, my car is done." Luckily, the hail that hit my section was pea size. Unfortunately for the southwest part of Cheyenne, it was golf ball sized and wiped out a car dealership.

Now that you’re on the cusp of retirement, what are your plans for when you retire?

My plan is to stay in the Washington D.C. area for 1 to 3 years being that I have some nieces in the area. I also plan to use Washington D.C. as a base to explore the mid-Atlantic, particularly to see how living in the beach areas in Delaware would be like. Lastly, I would like to check out what I haven’t explored yet in the D.C. area.

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