The science of forecasting the weather, especially potentially-killer storms, is improving every year, according to a top regional official with the National Weather Service. Lynn Maximuk is the agency’s central region director and oversees operations in 14 states, including Iowa.
Maximuk says the duties and the reach of the Weather Service have grown exponentially over the decades. Maximuk says: "In the past, we just typed up a little forecast that was a little block of words that people read on the radio. The way the information technology world is changing, our big challenge is: how do we get our information to people when they need it and where they need it. How do you get it into graphical format, get it to people’s cell phones, cars, G-P-S units, things like that."
Maximuk is based in Kansas City and says he’s seen many exciting changes in forecasting technology in his 35 years as a meteorologist. Maximuk says: "We’ve got more powerful computer models and more powerful computers that are improving the forecasting quite a bit but we’re really just on the beginning stages of getting that information to people. We look at the potential where, if you’re in your car driving down the road and there’s a severe thunderstorm with large hail ahead, we should be able to get you that information and steer you around that storm."
Motorists need to be in the loop when severe weather strikes, but they might not have their radio turned on — or they might be listening to C-Ds. Maximuk says it’s possible for forecasters to send out an overriding signal that would automatically turn on or tune in the devices to important broadcasts.
Maximuk says, "That technology is available for automobiles and for mobile people. Right now, it’s a little costly so a lot of people don’t have it but that’s the kind of thing we have to explore. That, or if your cell phone rings, you pick it up and it’s a tornado warning for your area and take cover. There’s a lot of ways to do it. The problem is just getting it into a cost-effective mode and getting it out to all the people."
Maximuk is in Des Moines this weekend to spend time chatting with folks at the National Weather Service booth at the Iowa State Fair. The agency is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is marking its 200th anniversary.