Get to Know OPC - Robert Oszajca
What first got you interested in weather?
I was always interested in weather. But when I enlisted in the Navy they offered me several specialties & one of them was weather.
Where did you attend college?
The University of La Verne in Pomona, CA.
You have a bachelor's degree?
Yes I do.
Business administration with a minor in management.
So you learned weather through the military?
I went to the Navy weather schools, the A school, the C school, later I went through the Naval Reserve schools. In addition I went to San Jose for synoptic & dynamic Meteorology & several other courses, most of them at Mississippi State University.
How long have you been a Meteorologist or Marine Forecaster?
I've been a marine forecaster since the mid-90's. My career spans like this; I was hired as a met-tech in Alliance, NE in 1981, I transferred to the network radar station at the naval station in Patuxent, MD in 1983, I went to the Washington, DC forecast office in 1984. When we moved to Sterling, VA I had accumulated the requirements to become a Meteorologist & I became an intern in 1990. I came back to Camp Springs, MD to work for the National Ocean Service in 1992 & then I went back to the National Weather Service in the mid-90s.
What was your favorite office to work at?
My favorite office is the Ocean Prediction Center.
What is one of the best things you like about being a Meteorologist?
I've always liked the interaction with the public.
What's one of the best things you've liked about working for the OPC & NWS in general?
The thing I liked about the OPC was the worldview. In the Washington, DC forecast office we wrote forecasts for Maryland, Delaware & Virginia, in the OPC we expanded to the Atlantic & Pacific oceans. It really opened my eyes to the weather systems. As far as the NWS I enjoyed everything they ever did. The best part was the training, the professionalism of the employees & coworkers.
How long have you worked for the NWS?
Since 1981, 32 years.
Since you were around during the formation of the OPC, can you tell us a little bit about how the OPC got its start?
The Sterling forecast office at that time was located in Camp Springs, MD on the 3rd floor; it was the Washington, DC forecast office. The marine program produced 9 charts for the Delaware radiofax. When the office transferred because of the NEXRAD radar system the marine program was transferred upstairs to National Meteorological Center. The office was part of the Marine Aviation branch, which split off into the Marine Prediction Center & later they acquired marine fax for the Pacific & the offshore forecast for both the Atlantic & Pacific.
How do you handle shiftwork?
As a young man I really enjoyed shiftwork. After my night shifts when I was a lot younger I would go home & stay up all day to be with my family. It was like having an extra day. As I got older I find that sometimes you don't get enough sleep & it wears on you.
When you leave work after shift do you still find yourself checking weather from home or do you leave it at the office?
When I go home I check the weather all the time. The thing I really like nowadays is everybody has a smartphone or an iPad so you can stay tuned in all the time.
Personally do you have an exciting weather story to share?
When I went out to Alliance, Nebraska in the early 80s I discovered that on the radar the thunderstorms were almost one big thunderstorm. They weren't clusters; there wasn't a lot of moisture to cloud the radar. You could almost get in your car, drive out there and see it. Occasionally you would see the hook echo for the tornado, a lot of open space out there. But I found that fascinating in a 50,000 foot top, you could see from the radar station 150 miles away.
Where do you see the field of Meteorology going in the future in terms of forecasting, technology or other?
I see the field extending out, instead of 7 to 10 days, maybe even 14 days. Just for the OPC eventually the Atlantic & Pacific becoming "two ponds" we oversee on a bigger planet.
How long have you been with the OPC?
About 20 years.
Are you yourself a mariner?
I go out on the river & the bay. I don't own a boat, as far as out to sea, I enjoy cruise ships.
Outside of the office what are some of the things you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I like to fish & I like to garden. The gardening sort of relates to the weather. You can almost be with the elements if you're in the garden.
I know earlier in your military career you spent some time down in the South Pole. Is there interesting things you could tell us about that?
Well, when I went down there I was in summer support, I didn't winter over. There were only a few people, a skeleton crew. My first year there I went to Byrd Station. While I was out at Byrd Station they had 2 aircraft incidents at a French station, American aircrafts. So the whole season was pretty much cancelled. So I spent 3 months with 5 people out there. We were pretty much an observation post & a gas station. We would fuel the planes & eventually they pulled everyone out. Second season was in McMurdo, a lot more people, a lot of different things going on. We were actually at the airfield on the ice. When I landed there I think it was 40 degrees below zero, but it got warmer. It got to a point where the temperatures were probably in the low 30s & we wore short sleeves, but we never took our thermals off.
You've been in the weather service quite a few years & you've seen a lot of changes. The weather service was much larger when you started. Can you tell me something about that?
From 1981 there were probably twice as many stations, maybe even three times as many. Two thirds of them were staffed by met-techs, mostly military guys. As they started downsizing they pretty much gave us I think 5-10 years to convert to meteorologists, to get the courses, the math & physics requirements to convert. Eventually in the mid-90s they downsized to about 52 stations I believe.
Now that you're on the cusp of retirement what are your plans for the future? What do you plan to do when you retire?
In the short-term I plan to travel, there are a lot of places I'd like to see. I plan to garden & eventually I'll probably move to Tennessee to help my daughter take care of her children, she has 4.
How many years of service do you have total?
Accounting my Navy time I'll have over 40 years.