While snow days can mean a break from work or school for many, Judy Levan’s days are busiest when the weather is at its worst. She is the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Buffalo forecast office. This position demands not only skillful forecasting of the vagaries of winter storms, but also clear and effective communication with multiple audiences about weather conditions.
A native western New Yorker, she is a graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego with a B.S. in Meteorology and a Minor in Physics. She is a member of the American Meteorological Society, National Weather Association, and Federally Employed Women. She chairs the Erie County Disaster Preparedness Advisory Board.
1. How does your work serve the public?
"The weather is always changing, so the work changes every day."
First and foremost, advanced warning of hazardous weather can save lives! However forecasts of temperature and precipitation not only have an economic impact on business and industry, but affect everyone, everyday.
2. What do you do to share information with and educate broader audiences about meteorology?
I work with different audiences in different ways to meet their specific needs. For example, our basic forecasts help everyone know whether they’ll need their umbrella or sunglasses and how to dress the kids for the bus in the morning. Highway crews need more specific information — surface temperatures, precipitation type and amount – to better prepare for weather-related road hazards, such as black ice formation. We provide targeted information for mariners and local emergency planners too.
I also work with Junior Girls Scouts who are learning about meteorology for their Weather Watch Badge. They learn by doing, so we build barometers and rain gages, and then they take observations and keep track of what’s forecast and what happens. Visiting schools on career days, attending boat shows, and conducting an open house are also ways to get the word out about meteorology and the National Weather Service.
3. What do you enjoy the most about your work?
That’s a toss-up. The weather is always changing, so the work changes every day. But I also like meeting people and talking about weather. From professionals to kids, everyone has their favorite weather story to tell.
4. Where do you do most of your work?
A good portion of my day is spent inside in front of a computer. However, the rest of my time is spent meeting with partners, those who share our mission, and our customers, which includes just about everyone else – civic groups, scout troops, career fairs, and business and industry groups. The list is endless!
5. What in your lab or office could you not live without?
My computer. It gives me access to all the weather information I need—from current observations to forecast models.
6. If you could invent any instrument to advance your work and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?
I would invent something that could continuously monitor current surface weather conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction, every 100 yards or so over both land and water. Good forecasts start with good surface observations!
7. When did you know you wanted to pursue a scientific field?
I had a teacher in the 8th grade who stood on the lab table walking back and forth to demonstrate how the wind vane always pointed into the wind (...in this case, the air vent). I was hooked.
8. What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?
It’s not a recent publication, but there was a book written around 2000 called Put Your Science to Work by Peter Fiske that explored how to find traditional as well as non-traditional jobs in science.
9. What part of your job as a NOAA scientist did you least expect to be doing?
Early in my career I had the misconception that scientists just sit in a lab or in front of the computer. I did not expect the amount of interaction I had with customers and partners. Now, it’s one of my favorite parts of the job.
10. Do you have an outside hobby?
Yes, many. (I guess I get bored if I do one thing too long.) I’m an amateur radio operator. I volunteer. I’m active in my high school alumnae association. I love to paint, crochet and do needlework.
11. What would you be doing if you had not become a meteorologist?
Teaching—math or science.
12. Who is your favorite historical scientist and why?
Christophorus Buys Ballot. Back in the day of sailing ships, captains needed to steer their ships away from the centers of storms and hurricanes. Using Buys Ballot’s law and observing clouds, winds, and barometric pressure, the ship’s master could navigate the vessel for the best chance of survival. Buys Ballot’s law states that if a person in the Northern Hemisphere stands with his back to the wind, the low pressure is found to the left. Of course, due to friction and local effects it may not necessarily be true, but its simplicity makes it easy for even kids to use.