Get to Know OPC - Timothy Collins
So why meteorology? How did you get interested in weather?
Well for most people in the field, there seems to be some seminal moment in childhood that sparked their interest which helped to drive and steer them to become a meteorologist. But for me it was just a gradual, steady collection of weather events after my family moved to High Point, NC, in the fall of 1985. I have faint memories of the big snows in the winter of '87 and '88, Hurricane Hugo in '89, etc. After this initial curiosity with weather after experiencing extreme events, my parents helped to foster that interest by giving me weather books in the early 90's - in particular I have a vivid memory of reading and re-reading the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather.
Where did you attend college?
Fortunately for me as I said earlier, the interest in weather had been there from the very beginning, and there was never much doubt as to what I was going to study once in college. I love the mountains, so attending the University of North Carolina at Asheville was a natural move. I received my Bachelors of Science in Atmospheric Sciences, distinction earned, in May of 2002.
How did you end up with the Ocean Prediction Center?
It was a fun journey! I had always wanted to work for the National Weather Service and Federal Government, but I had no luck gaining employment after graduating. I was working as a contractor with the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) at the time in 2003 when I finally decided that it was best to apply to the private weather industry to start gaining forecasting experience. I accepted the first private weather job that I applied for, which moved me from NC to California, at a weather forecasting and ship routing company. I spent nearly five years gaining experience, specifically with marine forecasting and timely decision making, and early in 2008 there was a vacancy within the OPC and I went for it. I was hired in March of '08 and have been here since.
What is your title at OPC, and what do you enjoy most about your job?
Marine meteorologist, and that's a really tough question to answer so I'm going cheat and name a couple of things! First and foremost I take great satisfaction working for the public and providing weather guidance and forecasts to the marine community. I've read that international shipping accounts for about 90% of the world's trading - and that its basically the backbone of the world economy. Knowing that there is such a vast and wide array of customers using our products, and having such a high importance on the forecasts is very rewarding. I also take great satisfaction in working with some of the smartest and best forecasters in the world. There are literally years upon years upon years of forecasting experience and technical acumen in this office, and it provides a great setting to act as a sponge and soak up some of their knowledge.
What about the job itself though – what do you enjoy most?
What never gets old to me is the strength and size and intensity of the storms that develop over the open ocean. I can't use enough adjectives to describe how impressive some of these mid latitude extra-tropical cyclones can be! In my opinion these major weather features and their expansive wind fields and then the phenomenal seas that they generate – these systems just easily dwarf every other type of weather phenomena out there. That's why it's so imperative that we get our forecasts accurate and readily available to the public – to help keep mariners safe and informed especially during these major storms.
What about the other side of the coin – is there a downside to your job?
The rotating shift work, which includes weekends, overnights, and holidays, is difficult for me. Our schedule changes from week to week, almost day to day sometimes. It's pretty intense and difficult on the sleep schedule, and our social life can suffer at times. However, I'm very grateful and fortunate to have a job that I truly enjoy where I get to serve the public no matter what time or day of the week I am here.
The weather never sleeps! Speaking of social life – anything in particular you enjoy when not at the office?
Well I'm a big sports fan, so living in the DC area affords me the luxury of attending lots of different sporting events, and I've been a part of a Spring kickball league on the National Mall for the past few years. There's no end to the amount of tourist and historical things to do around this area; it's amazing. The DC area really is a spectacular place to live; there's so much to do!
Do you pour over weather computer models when not at work? Or are you able to "turn it off" when not at the office?
Yes and no. For the most part I don't have much of a problem turning it off, but it really does depend on the weather situation. For instance, if there's a hurricane force low or some other extreme event, and especially if I made the forecast for it, I'm definitely checking to see if it came to fruition when not here at the office. But otherwise I'll briefly look at computer models for the U.S. and local weather every now and then. As you could imagine, there are a lot of times when my friends are traveling and they want specific forecasts, so I usually oblige in those situations as well!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
You know it's interesting because I seem to get that question a lot. But like I said earlier I really do like living in the DC area with all of its history, and I enjoy being on the east coast where most of my friends and family reside. I definitely see myself still working for the OPC in 5 years, or at least with the NWS in some capacity. We have a lot of exciting changes on the horizon, perhaps the biggest being our impending move to the NCWCP in College Park at the University of Maryland Research Park.