Moving Along

Wildfires, Hurricanes and Weather with Mark Pellerito

Episode Summary

Local TV weatherman gets canned! Now what? Mark Pellerito became an incident meteorologist with the National Weather Service and has traveled the world forecasting the weather for fire fighters, FEMA and disaster relief workers.

Episode Notes

Into the maw of disaster, Mark Pellerito travels to wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and even to train derailments on behalf of the National Weather Service, where Mark works as an incident meteorologist. Since the age of five, he's wanted to be a weatherman, and he started out as a local TV weatherman in Michigan. Then all hell broke loose, and his dream came crashing down. He and the entire newsroom were fired. Mark's wife, Marisa, was pregnant with twins; they had just bought a home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Friends suggested he apply to the National Weather Service, and before long, Mark was relocated in Glasgow, Montana, and training at the Shower Bath Fire in Idaho, then the Rattlesnake Complex, also in Idaho. Before long he was sent to the Iron Complex fire in California. Then, he was summoned to Sydney, Australia during the worst fire season they'd ever seen. In addition to wildfires, Mark talks about hurricanes, tornadoes, his love of weather from the time he was a kid and a New Jersey train derailment just outside of Philadelphia. 

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Christi: I spoke with Mark Pellerito as wildfires were burning in New Mexico. But before the summer wildfire season officially began and well before the unprecedented drought and high temperatures hit Europe this summer. What started out as a conversation about a meteorologist suddenly losing his position as a local TV weatherman turned into a conversation about the extremes of weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and even a train derailment.

These are the observations of a National Weather Service incident meteorologist Mark travels the world on behalf of the National Weather Service. He's another kind of U.S. Ambassador you might say to bring his expertise to bear upon weather extremes around the world. His stories take [00:01:00] us from Michigan to Montana.

Back to New York state and even to Australia 

welcome Mark Pellerito. 

[00:01:10] Mark: Thank you so much, Christi. I'm happy to be here. 

[00:01:13] Christi: Thanks for being here. You grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, what did travel and moving mean to you as a kid? 

[00:01:22] Mark: Yeah, it's a funny thing, even though I've done a lot of moving around since back at that time.

We're up in the same school district, my entire life. I have a twin brother, Joe, our best friends were twins. We had all these overlapping circles of friends. It was just kind of like a really cozy nest feeling. We just were in the same spot and life was just in one spot and yes, we would travel, but it would be like, you know heading out to Lake Michigan or going with our best friends on their vacation out West somewhere.

But there was always the feeling of home home in west Michigan it was hard to imagine life beyond that. 

[00:01:59] Christi: Summer [00:02:00] vacations then that kind of thing 

[00:02:01] Mark: yeah, things like that. Or if you want to dial it back even more before we were 16, freedom to us was bicycles.

Right. And we would just take off on our bikes. I remember several times where we, you know, we had no plan, we would just get up before Dawn and we'd take off on our bikes and 40 miles later we're it Lake Michigan. It's a different time, I guess you could say, it's funny. We had no cell phones or anything at that time.

We just took off and our parents were okay with it. If there's an emergency to say, just give us a call, but luckily there never really was. 

[00:02:34] Christi: How far away was Lake Michigan? 

[00:02:37] Mark: 40 miles from my house to the end of the pier at Grand Haven was exactly 40 miles in the end.

And we would take about three hours to get out there and another three hours to go back. Of course we had stopped somewhere for lunch and all that stuff. But yeah, you know, when you're 15, 16, 17 years old, that's, that's nothing, it's a lot of fun. 

[00:02:59] Christi: Do your kids [00:03:00] go riding off on their own?

[00:03:01] Mark: Now they're not so much into the bike thing, but we definitely do a lot of hiking. Living in upstate New York, affords us a lot of options. We've got the Finger Lakes close by We've got the Catskills, the Adirondacks and there's just so many outdoor things to do. So that's pretty much what things look like for them.

Now. They don't jump on a bike in flat Michigan. They can put on their hiking boots and climb up mountains. 

[00:03:26] Christi: Did you know that you wanted to be a meteorologist before you went off to University of Michigan? 

[00:03:32] Mark: Yes. And it's not true of every meteorologist, but it's funny as a field, how common this story is that, a meteorologist knew since kindergarten or sooner what they wanted to do. And in my case, I knew, for as long as I can remember that I wanted to be a meteorologist and it's funny, I have a twin brother and he had no interest in that. So I guess it's not really genetic. I don't know why, why that's the [00:04:00] case. But I knew all along what I wanted to do. 

[00:04:02] Christi: So you were in kindergarten when you were attracted to the weather 

[00:04:06] Mark: I honestly cannot remember the moment. That was where I was like, Ooh, that's what I want to do. It was innate. I don't remember not wanting to be a meteorologist the only exception being, I was considering at one point, Hey, maybe I want to be in earth science teacher or something like that.

But in the end it was all, it was always about the weather. The weather was the reason. And I'm also one of those Weather Channel babies, the Weather Channel started about 40 years ago. And so I grew up watching what was the very beginning of the Weather Channel. And while everyone else is, outside playing basketball and trying to drag me along, I'm like, wait, wait, wait.

I want to look at the local forecast or the, tornado footage or whatever. It's just one of those things I always wanted to be a meteorologist. 

[00:04:53] Christi: So that's pretty much how your love of weather manifested was watching the Weather Channel or did you go [00:05:00] outside and 

[00:05:00] Mark: well, that growing up in growing up in Michigan, I got to get four solid seasons of weather.

Just such a wide variety of weather, anything from thunder storms and tornadoes, including there was a tornado, I'm not talking about when I was a kid, but when my grandfather was , raising his family in west Michigan and the great Standale tornado came through and just hearing all those stories and then also being close enough to Lake Michigan, to where we get lake effect snow a lot.

There's such a huge variety of weather in Michigan and speaking of Lake Michigan, by the way. Also, if the winds were really ripping, like the gales of November, we had go out and see the waves crashing. It just really always got to me. It made me very passionate for weather.

[00:05:49] Christi: Were you a boater too? Did you like boats or did you sail 

[00:05:53] Mark: You know, I didn't do much of that at all, but man, does my dad have a story? When he was[00:06:00] maybe just around college age he, and three other guys randomly just got on a boat and tried to set sail for Hawaii.

And they got caught in a hurricane off the coast of Mexico and they were lucky to be alive. He, he got chained to the post, so to speak. So as to avoid getting swept off and, you know, made it through the night and they ended up making their way back to the Mexico coast and, and they lived to tell the story, I had a blow up rafts. All right. That's what, that was my boat. And I lived pretty close to a lake and I would often take my raft and my milk carton full of rocks as an anchor and go out in the lake and drop that anchor.

About weather or anything else? 

[00:06:53] Christi: What did you read? 

[00:06:54] Mark: Oh, you know I read about the big tornado outbreaks in the Ohio Valley [00:07:00] or in Oklahoma.

Sometimes I would just read about weather, just really dig into the details of the science. You could also find me at the Grand Rapids Public Library going through old microfiche of of newspapers back in the fifties and sixties about the tornadoes and like Flint and all that stuff.

Just some pretty epic tornadoes from Michigan history. 

[00:07:19] Christi: Did you ever dabble in storm chasing?

[00:07:22] Mark: I did. Yeah. You know, when I was young and anytime there was a storm, I would get the itch to go look around and drive.

But of course When I was in college, then, then it wasn't just me, but a bunch of weather nerds at the atmospheric science department there. There was one time where we actually all just drove down to Oklahoma and did storm chasing and I think it was right after winter term one year. We just drove down and live the dream that we'd always talked about. And then there is one other storm chase that I did that was after college.

And that was when I was a television meteorologist and then one day I walked in and the job was [00:08:00] gone. The news department folded and just so I was out out of a job and my older brother, Mike, to cheer me up said, Hey, let's get in my truck.

We're going to go down down to the mid Atlantic coast by Virginia and, and watch Hurricane Isabel. 

[00:08:17] Christi: I did want to ask you about the suddenly everything was gone. You had been there two years, right? And that was in Wisconsin 

[00:08:26] Mark: there's two stations. My first job outside of college was as a weekend meteorologist in Wausau, Wisconsin. I did a year as a weekend meteorologist there, and then I got promoted to morning meteorologist the morning and noon shows. So I did that for a year.

Then I moved to Battle Creek where I was a weekend meteorologist again for a year. And then chief meteorologist for just under a year. Unfortunately, the the corporation that owns the many stations across the country had a bad quarter. And they had to do some bloodletting [00:09:00] really quick. And that fell on our station where they're like, Hmm.

You know, it's funny the same corporation owned the number one station in the area in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the little small station in Battle Creek, Michigan. And so they're like, well, how about we just let the Battle Creek stations news department fold, and then we can just simulcasts to Grand Rapids news over into Battle Creek.

And so with no notice at all, we were gone, 

[00:09:29] Christi: so then you go with Mike and drive down to Virginia what was that like? 

[00:09:35] Mark:

Well, that was pretty wild for one thing. I'd, you know, growing up in Michigan, I had never really seen anything tropical with my own eyes.

You know, other than remnants of a hurricane once dumping some rain, but actually seeing, with my own eyes, giant waves, pounding the shore and breaking up piers that have been there for a long, long time. And then feeling the reality of like, Hey, we better get out of here.

Knowing that the storm surge was [00:10:00] coming and that things were about to get really bad. It's funny that down, this is down where Chesapeake Bay opens up by Virginia Beach and so there's some pretty long bridges down there and we're one of the last vehicles to get out of there before they shut all that down.

The waves were actually lapping over. onto the roadway as we were driving out. And that, but we felt a little vulnerable. I'm glad we left when we did. And as we suspected might be the case we saw in the news later, that there were people trapped with where the storm surge had been, where the sand got all over the roads, you know, washed into the roads and power lines down .

So I, I'm not gonna lie. It was a lot of fun, but it was also exactly what we expected as far as like needing to be smart about it and to get out when it was time. I will say though, we had fun doing what we called science experiments. Like we blew up a whole bunch of party balloons. And then release them from the truck and watch them scatter.

We were situated in a parking [00:11:00] structure, so we felt pretty safe in the structure. And the winds were just ripping on by and as fun. Another thing we did is we strapped on rollerblades and took a big sheet and we basically sailed across the parking lot in a roller blades with the sheet blowing in the wind.

[00:11:15] Christi: Have you ever seen anything like that since? 

[00:11:18] Mark: Not with my own eyes, on shore, but I have definitely seen a lot of after effects of tropical systems and hurricanes. I live now close enough to the Atlantic seaboard, to where we'll send any given year. We could have six to 12 inches of rain just kind of dump on our general area and cause a lot of flash flooding and river flooding.

So that was Isabelle that I chased with my older brother, whereas is Irene that came up and dumped a whole bunch of rain here just, as I was moving here. 

[00:11:51] Christi: And that was about 10 years ago, then you move to New York 

[00:11:54] Mark: state. Correct? We had a combination of Hurricane Irene and then [00:12:00] Tropical Storm Lee and moisture from a different one called Katia.

Just kind of all combined and dumped epic amounts of rain and cause record flooding here in the Binghamton area. And so what that meant for me was I was house hunting when a lot of other people were also housed hunting because they had been flooded out. So it was, that was a pretty big challenge trying to find a home for our family during that time.

[00:12:25] Christi: Wow. What about Sandy, which was the big one for most people in New York, at least in New York City and up the coast. But did you get fallout from that too 

[00:12:38] Mark: We had peripheral effects from that this far inland, but we definitely had some and in fact, two weeks after Sandy, I went and hiked up Slide Mountain, which is the tallest mountain in the Catskills.

And at the top of the mountain, there's trees that are used to a whole lot of wind. Right. Cause you know, they, they're growing at 3,500 feet to 4,000 feet elevation.[00:13:00] They see wind all the time. And yet even those trees, a whole bunch of them were mowed down and uprooted.

It was really something to see just the power of the storm 

[00:13:09] Christi: like that. 

So by the time you got to New York State and after the Battle Creek blowout right. Somewhere along in there, you got involved with the National Weather Service.

You're no longer just doing local meteorology. 

[00:13:29] Mark: I knew that I wanted to be a meteorologist pretty much all my life. But when I was a kid, to me that who's a meteorologist, right. It's a person on TV. That's what, that's what I thought a meteorologist did that's actually a pretty small portion of the field of meteorology, but I didn't know any better.

So that's what I did. I went into TV, meteorology and then when that plan completely blew up, which you know, that was my dream job. Right. It's what I always wanted to do. Heck I even moved back to my home area in west Michigan. So I thought life [00:14:00] was happening just right for me. I met my wife and we were just starting to, you know, have a house have kids on the way, the dream was happening.

And then I walk in one day and the dream is completely shattered. It's gone. The job is gone. Everything's gone. The house we just bought. We had to sell to the neighbors. We're moving in with the in-laws. We have not one, but two kids on the way we find out. That was a pretty harrowing time. And so it was right around that time that were like, you know, this job where you can lose, you can lose your employment at the drop of a hat.

Might not be the most solid foundation for a family, with kids and all that stuff. So while I was still applying to be a meteorologist at TV stations all over the country friends that are in the National Weather Service, they're just like, you know, have you considered actually working for the National Weather Service, which is federal government, it's not on TV, you know, all that behind the scenes stuff.

And I'm like, you know, I hadn't even thought of that. [00:15:00] And a few months later, all of a sudden I find out we're moving to Glasgow, Montana, which is on the windswept High Plains. 

[00:15:08] Christi: That must've been a real culture 

[00:15:11] Mark: shock. Yeah. And when you hear the word Montana, what do you think of? 

[00:15:16] Christi: I think of Yellowstone and I think of Missoula. I do have a friend that lives in Butte, but mostly in Livingston by Yellowstone, 

[00:15:29] Mark: so you got. Yellowstone you got Glacier. I mean, these are places we also visited on our honeymoon, right?

It's like my wife always loved the movie. A River Runs Through It, which is set in Missoula. And for honeymoon, we didn't really have any set plans other than to eventually get to Missoula. And we did having no idea that like a year later we'd be moving to Montana. But so you think of all those things, right?

The postcards while go about six hours from that [00:16:00] north east into north and east into the middle of nowhere. And that's where we were. We were in Glasgow, Montana. Where if you want to go to the mall, that's a five-hour drive. If you need to go to say Walmart it's two and a half hours.

[00:16:17] Christi: Wow. 

[00:16:18] Mark: It's just that the town we are in Glasgow, Montana was only about 3000 people and cows out number of people eight to one, it's in the void, the void between the Plains and the Rocky Mountains. They like to joke around how they're the middle of nowhere.

And when you're right in the actual city, the town like you're at the post office or walking around town and you don't realize you're in the middle of nowhere, but as soon as you go two miles any direction, and you're like, oh yeah, we're kind of an island here. 

[00:16:48] Christi: So that's where you cut your teeth with the National Weather Service.

[00:16:52] Mark: Right. While I was out there, I got exposed to incident. That there are these meteorologists within the weather service [00:17:00] that would respond to wildfires and being out in Montana, I got to finally get a taste of that because growing up in Michigan, you just don't hear much about wildfires.

What was your 

[00:17:09] Christi: reaction to fire? 

[00:17:12] Mark: When I grew up in Michigan, I was always fascinated by the weather, the power of the wind, the waves on Lake Michigan all of that. And when a fire entered the brain, cause it hadn't at that point, I just realized it was just another one of those things where it's just like, wow, the power, the unpredictability, the vulnerability It just instantly fascinated me, 

[00:17:38] Christi: Coming in contact with fire.

So you're kind of right there between east and west in Montana. Right. So you get the water to the east, you got the fire to the 

[00:17:50] Mark: west. Yeah. And, and, and the high Plains of Montana it can be pretty dry there. And so if you're wondering where the Amber waves of grain are, that's where you find them.

[00:18:00] Because every year you have a quick green-up and you have lots of, grains and I'm trying to think of, well, you don't have trees, not many trees there at all. And the High Plains, it's all like grains and things like that. And so you get a quick green-up it dries out as the summer continues and gets warm and dry, and then everything is golden and flammable.

May I mention well, they can have raging Prairie fires driven by the wind. As you get late summer, early fall during those dry years, 

[00:18:33] Christi: did you see any of them when you were there? 

[00:18:36] Mark: Not directly. Well, come to think of it. Yeah, I didn't see it with my own eyes, but it was close enough to where we had smoke all over the place.

And one of our meteorologists was dispatched as an incident meteorologist pretty close by like only. 50 or 60 miles away. So yeah, I got to see some effects of it, but I didn't really get to see much with my own eyes just yet. That came later. 

[00:18:55] Christi: What was your first fire as an incident meteorologist 

[00:18:59] Mark: We [00:19:00] like to joke that it was the cleanest fire that year, because it was called the Shower Bath Fire.

It's just funny. The names of these fires it's often like whatever, whatever creek drainage it happens to be in, or say like a topographical feature, like a ridge and it just picks up a name. I still don't know why it was called Shower Bath Fire kind of strange, but that was the first fire I trained on.

It was in Idaho. It was over a hundred thousand acres, but at the same time, it was in a remote area and it was kind of wrapping up and then, so that closed down. And since I was already out west, I called our national coordinator and was just like, you know everyone back home thinks I'm gone for two weeks.

If you want to send me to another fire to finish some more training, I'd be happy to do that. And so next thing you know, I'm driving up and around up to Missoula Montana actually. And then back into Idaho to a different fire called the Rattlesnake Complex. [00:20:00] That was in the Salmon River drainage in the very mountainy part of Idaho.

But then my first fire where I actually got certified on was called the Iron Complex and that was in California. And unfortunately it was also one where you had two aircraft collide that were fighting the fire and took a bunch of lives. That was my first. Real awakening of the kind of environment I was operating in and the risks involved for any of the firefighters.

[00:20:32] Christi: That's sad. That's scary. 

[00:20:34] Mark: Isn't it? And that's, you know, that's knowing the risks that the firefighters have just, you know, fighting these fires.

That's the reason I'm there. That's the reason the whole incident meteorologist program exists. We are there to watch for their, safety. And the National Weather Service mentions protection of life and property. And when you're in a wildfire [00:21:00] environment in a remote area and weather it's like the most dynamic thing, it's the thing that changes all the time.

Sometimes on level of minutes trying to not just come up with an accurate forecast, but to communicate it in a way to where the boots on the ground are aware that there's a wind shift coming sometime around 3:00 PM and to be ready for it, cause when you have a fire burning and all of a sudden you shift the wind big time it, it can trap people in it.

All of a sudden this piece of ground you thought was safe and you're surrounded by fire. It's a really bad situation. You need to be able to anticipate it. 

[00:21:33] Christi: Are you usually the only person there or do you have a team of incident meteorologists working . 

[00:21:39] Mark: Like the best way I could put it is I am the onsite representative of the National Weather Service, but, there's a local office there, whatever National Weather Service office happens to be forecasting for that general area.

There's lots of entities within the National Weather Service and the Forest Service, which [00:22:00] are always dialing in on the details of the expected weather and the conditions of the fuels, which is, you know what, what burns the dead brush, the dead grass, or even in the cases of drought, the live trees.

If they happen to be very, very dry and more receptive to fire. So there's a whole team that's involved in this, but I am the onsite person who's tailoring the forecast to specifically not just that fire, but even that particular mountain, that particular slope, that particular ridge, that canyon, or if they're trying to do a burnout operation, fighting fire with fire and they need to know, okay, if we light it, what's the weather going to be doing?

I'm the person that communicates that. 

[00:22:43] Christi: What are the tools that you use to map this out and to convey the information to the firefighters and the Forest Service and other people? 

[00:22:53] Mark: Well so you know weather balloons, they are launched from roughly a hundred different sites across the [00:23:00] country, twice a day and around the world too, for that matter.

But when you go into a fire sometimes. The closest weather balloon is pretty far away. We have everything that we need contained in the Pelican case that they bring with me. We can launch a weather balloon from anywhere at any time. And what a weather balloon does is it takes, you know, all thermometer.

Hydrometer all, all the different 'ometers that measures all the different weather parameters like humidity, temperature, instability, winds, we can't just know what's going on at the ground. Right. We need to know what's going on up through the atmosphere. And so we launched these weather balloons to determine what's actually going on what the computer model thinks is going on and how it differs.

So you got that. We also have. Our Remote Automated Weather Systems, which we call RAWS acronym, Remote Automated Weather Systems. We can set up anywhere again, sometimes we're in a pretty remote area. And [00:24:00] so the observation that for what's actually going on is kind of sparse. We need to know what's really going on at that mountain or in that canyon, at that elevation.

And we can set these up anywhere and move them around. Plus you have the usual computer modeling for weather you take what the model is suggesting is happening, how much agreement there is and all the different models. Sometimes there's a lot of uncertainty and sometimes there's more confidence.

You take that with all the observations from weather balloons and from the ground and complete the picture of what's happening now. And what's going to happen tomorrow. 

[00:24:35] Christi: Have you ever been wrong in a bad way? 

[00:24:40] Mark: It happens. Yes. And the first thing you gotta do is why, what went wrong. So you can learn from that and apply it to the next one.

Because the funny thing about this is when I get dispatched to a wildfire, I get dropped into a place I likely never been before. [00:25:00] It's the piece of ground I've never even seen before. And everyone immediately comes to me because I'm the weather expert for that piece of ground, even though I've never been there.

So there's a steep learning curve for sure. Sometimes you have to do it really quick, but it does take a few days to complete the picture of what the weather really is there and what's going on. And then eventually you get dialed in.

You get really dialed in to where you're able to anticipate these, previously unexpected changes or each afternoon you might have a wind that occurs up a slope or in a canyon, and you finally figure out why, and that allows you to communicate directly to the firefighters.

This canyon always has winds ripping up, starting at around 2:00 PM every afternoon. So watch out for that, cause mind you these firefighters are sometimes coming also from all different parts of the country. If you just say, oh yeah, you know, I'm out west at this fire, these guys know what's going on.

Right. Not necessarily. 

[00:25:57] Christi: I was wondering if you ever were [00:26:00] given local guides or if you had locals , 

[00:26:03] Mark: That's when we really lean hard on the local National Weather Service office and say, okay, what are the critical patterns we have to watch out for, in the past, when there's been big fire, blow ups , what was going on at that time?

And they help us tune in to what's really important to watch out for. And also in a part of my job as an incident, meteorologist is whatever locals are around. I talked to them a lot because the locals often do have. They're very tuned in to the things that can happen.

And then I can apply that to my weather forecast and also to my communication, to my briefings that I give to the firefighters. 

[00:26:41] Christi: So you're not just talking Forest Service, you're talking like Sierra Club. Right. You're talking those people that, that really know the terrain. 

[00:26:50] Mark: Yeah. And especially anybody whose livelihoods are right there, they are very aware of the things that can happen and the things that typically happen. 

[00:26:59] Christi: Have you [00:27:00] seen evacuations or do you just, pretty much people are evacuated by the time you get there? 

[00:27:06] Mark: It depends. But yeah, I've seen some pretty harrowing things.

Especially afterwards, and you're driving around, you're seeing all these homes that are burned up and gone, and everyone's evacuated still at that point. Out West increasingly. So in the past few decades you have an interface of urban and wilderness.

And so there's more and more vulnerability with these neighborhoods and homes being built in very fire prone areas. And if you don't create defensible space around your home by clearing brush and all that stuff when the fire does come, you don't really have much you have only luck at that point.

If you've not create a defensible space around your home, 

[00:27:50] Christi: Tell me about getting sent to Australia.

[00:27:53] Mark: That was really something. And it was something I never expected and it's probably once in a lifetime to be able to do [00:28:00] something like that. Although if they called me again in a heartbeat so Australia had many, many years of drought prior. Also and especially that year, it was like the worst on record for much of the continent.

And mind you, Australia is an island, but it is about the size of the United States. It's a big island, big island, it's a continent on its own. And across the continent they're having for much of the continent the driest year on record and with the backdrop of warmer and warmer temperatures over the many years and even decades, and they knew it was going to be a really, really bad brush fire season or bush fires, what they call it out there, 

knowing ahead of time was necessary as far as being able to amend their staffing with National Weather Service meteorologists sent internationally. So I got the call right before Thanksgiving. And this isn't like just, going to a fire out west and coming back. Usually [00:29:00] when I get sent out west, it's only for a couple of weeks for Australia, it was like a six to seven week deal where they're like, would you be able to do this to miss Christmas, to miss New Year's, to miss your twins, sweet 16, to miss your wife's birthday, all that.

And I approached Marissa about it and it took her about 30 seconds to say, you have to go, you're going to regret. If you don't. So much appreciated her full support on that. I knew what I was missing. It's part of the job. Whenever I get sent out west to these wildfires there's an understanding that I'm going to miss out on some life events and that was no exception for the Australia one, but yeah, I had to go it was incredible down there.

How bad their fire season was. They get wildfires. It's a natural thing to have wildfires, but still, this was like next level stuff. 

[00:29:49] Christi: How many of you were sent. 

[00:29:52] Mark: Maybe three or four at one time, but in the end it was like seven or eight or nine.

I can't remember exactly there was two to three of [00:30:00] us stationed at the Sydney Bureau of Meteorology office, which is their National Weather Service equivalent.

There were others. And there's one in Brisbane. There's a couple down in Melbourne, even Tasmania may have gotten involved again, because this does happen every once in a while we have sent National Weather Service meteorologists down there before, but you know, it's pretty rare. 

[00:30:23] Christi: Where do they send from other countries as well? Or just from the U S 

[00:30:27] Mark: for the meteorologists? I think it was the agreement between the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Weather Service, a relationship that is built over time. And I'm not aware of other countries that sent meteorologists. I am very aware though that it wasn't just meteorologist that they're hurting for you think of any firefighting apparatus equipment, people, .

There are people coming from all over the world Canada, too. While I was there, we had an air tanker go down with three Americans. That was pretty heavy. And I have to say that the people I worked with the Bureau of [00:31:00] Meteorology were wonderful. They were more than hosts.

They were just amazing. And the support that we got, not just for our time there and being away from family, but also when things would happen, like when these firefighters went down just the support we received from them was really incredible. 

[00:31:18] Christi: You were there for six weeks, right?

[00:31:21] Mark: Yep. It was really incredible and also on a selfish note. It was nice to go to a fire, but not have to be working 16 hour days for weeks on end. When I get dispatched to a wildfire here in the United States, I typically worked 16 hour days for two weeks straight, but then I get to go home.

Sometimes it's extended past two weeks, but not usually when I was out in Australia, I was working a standard 40 hour work week. That's it, which gave me a lot of time to explore greater Sydney area to go to the beach, to experience the holidays in [00:32:00] Australia with summer weather, because for them it was summertime.

You know, I'm not going to lie. That was a blast. It was great.

[00:32:06] Christi: You're trained in fire, right. But would you be able to do incident meteorology for a hurricane or 

[00:32:15] Mark: tornado or if called upon? Yes. And in fact, I have been called to, even though wildfires are the typical thing that incident meteorologist go to, there was a Monday that I just walked down as a quiet weather day on a December.

I can't remember exactly what year I'm going to say, maybe six, seven years ago or so. I wasn't expecting anything. It was just a nice sunny day. I said, all right, I'm going to finally be able to catch up on some things. And that evening I was in New Jersey at a train derailment. What I thought was a quiet day was suddenly turned into an 11 day stint down in Paulsboro, New Jersey, right across from Philadelphia International Airport with a hazmat train derailment and tidal Creek with [00:33:00] evacuations. 

[00:33:01] Christi: Was that Amtrak or was this a different thing?

[00:33:04] Mark: It wasn't specifically Amtrak, but, but that being said, the rail line that it was along might have disrupted. This was a very, very busy rail line and all of a sudden it was incapacitated by this train derailment with gosh, what was it?

It w it did involve vinyl chloride. I think it was called, some pretty bad chemicals. They had to 

[00:33:27] Christi: evacuate people 

[00:33:29] Mark: and it was right along, you know, is on a bridge. And so the, the contents of these rail cars were into a tidal Creek, with high tide, low tide and water, moving back and forth, and it was just a very, very complicated scenario.

And the response to that of course, was weather dependent, right? Which way is the wind blowing? How strong is the wind? Can we use a crane or not? Is there lightening in the area? When is high tide, when is [00:34:00] slack tide? Cause you know, we can't really send the divers in if the water is moving. Meanwhile, this is during the shortest daylight of the year.

There's so many dimensions to the response and they needed somebody there as a meteorologist onsite be a point person for all these questions. 

[00:34:17] Christi: So the chemicals must've been flammable and that's why they were concerned about lightning 

[00:34:22] Mark: well, if you have a giant crane, you basically have a big lightening rod. Oh right. And that giant crane also, which by the way, had to be shipped. Over the water from New York City. And then, you know, they had to remove pylons and all that stuff to get this crane in there. See it's basically one giant lightning rod.

And also if the winds are more than 15 miles per hour, and it's lifting a heavy train, a railcar, the whole crane could go over, if the wind is strong enough. So there, there were just a lot of things to watch out for.[00:35:00]

[00:35:01] Christi: For 11 

[00:35:01] Mark: days. Yeah. I was supposed to be there for 14, but by day 11, I was exhausted.

And I had another incident meteorologist colleague who also works at the National Weather Service in Binghamton New York and we swap places. And if he finished the job for me But yeah, there's so many entities involved. There's the county, there was the city, there was the state of New Jersey.

There's the U.S. Coast Guard. And then there was the private company itself, which had its own incident operation. So yeah, it was just so complicated. It was not just weather, but tides politics I'll say, was involved too. You know, people evacuated very upset. It's one thing to be evacuated on an immediate, you know, like, Hey, you gotta get out of there, but it's another, when it, when it drags on to 7, 8, 9 days and your life's been completely disrupted in a highly populated area.

I'll never forget. There was a local school that had a public meeting there, you know, like an informational meeting. And [00:36:00] I was just sent there, to be the. So what answer any weather questions, but instead anybody involved with that turned into a target of, people being very upset, not understanding what's going on and needing somebody to rant at

and that turned out to be me that evening too. 

[00:36:19] Christi: So you, and you just took it because whatever. 

[00:36:23] Mark: Yeah. Yeah. Try, try my best to empathize with them. Let's just say that the skills drawn upon went way beyond meteorology. 

[00:36:32] Christi: I'm sure they have served you well, regardless along the way,

Where do you stay when you go, when you talking 16 hour days, or like in situations where everything's been leveled how does that work 

[00:36:44] Mark: Typically if I'm at a wildfire in a remote area, I am staying on the ground 

[00:36:51] Christi: in a tent. 

[00:36:54] Mark: Yes. Wow. With me and hundreds of my buddies, you know, firefighters, you [00:37:00] know, where it's basically a city that gets set up, a mobile city and you 

[00:37:04] Christi: have people there who are cooking for everyone.

[00:37:07] Mark: Yes. Yes. You have caterers who come in and operate out of the semi-truck and serve everybody. It really is something to see this city spring up out of nowhere and also eventually tear down. 

Yeah. I, I don't necessarily know all the ins and outs of everything, but I just know it's very logistically complicated and yet it happens every year. And there are people who deal with this as their normal job. 

[00:37:32] Christi: You like what you 

[00:37:33] Mark: do? Oh yeah. I love it. I mean, on a daily basis, I'm at the National Weather Service forecasting, the weather.

And so sometimes it's like, I'm in an office environment and I'm not as integrated with the people who use and need the forecast so directly. Whereas when I go to a wildfire and the, and I'm with the boots on the ground, I mean, it is a direct relationship and communication of. What I know [00:38:00] the science that I know and in a way that can be used directly.

And so, you know, usually it's success. Sometimes the weather doesn't work out and just, I just love having the very direct connection with the users of my forecasts. 

[00:38:17] Christi: Where are you and Marisa going to go on vacation and do you check the weather? Before you think about where you might go? 

[00:38:24] Mark: It's funny with the job that I have, I'm never really off. Everyone knows, everyone knows I'm a weather person. Whether it's Marissa herself or any of our friends are like, Hey, what's the weather going to be at the, you know, what's it going to be today?

If I were to go to, you know, this place, what's the weather going to be there? You know, it's funny. I try to be off the clock to the degree I can, but can never really quite get away from weather it's 24 7. So vacations for us you know, anybody who has had to move away from quote, home, move away from family.

It's funny how often vacation just [00:39:00] turns out to be getting together with family again. Cause when else are you going to so most of our vacations have been family events. But finally we're actually going, this is pretty wild. Our twin son and daughter Autumn and Evan. They are graduating this year and we are taking a quote senior trip or whatever you want to call it this summer to the Dominican Republic.

[00:39:22] Christi: What fun. That's great. 

[00:39:25] Mark: Yeah. Yeah. We're just kind of a once in a lifetime deal. We've never done anything quite like this. And we are going with a bunch of family, friends as well, who also have seniors. It won't be the longest vacation ever, but it's going to be like about a week.

That's pretty awesome. And we're just, I mean, it's going to be a real vacation, which I can't, you know, we've had vacations, but I can't say we've had many real vacations where it's just like, wow, we're going someplace exotic. And we're just, we have no plans other than to. Relax. That'll be fun. 

[00:39:56] Christi: That sounds just like heaven , 

[00:39:59] Mark: that's [00:40:00] coming up in July.

And so of course, naturally as a meteorologist I'm like, okay, so it was hurricane season going to be rolling by then yet. 

[00:40:10] Christi: Hopefully not, hopefully 

[00:40:13] Mark: that going to wait a little bit before that gets really rolling, but yeah, that's on my mind. Got to admit 

[00:40:18] Christi: that sounds like a great trip and I'm so glad that you've told me about it.

[00:40:24] Mark: I just saw a very funny little statistic that the median distance that somebody moves away from Mom in the United States is only 18 miles.

[00:40:35] Christi: That's astounding. 

[00:40:37] Mark: It is. Cause I work in a field with the National Weather Service where pretty much all my coworkers are transplants from somewhere else. It's pretty rare for somebody to grow up right in their home area and to work at the National Weather Service right next to where they grew up.

That's extremely rare. Most people are from all over creation. And so [00:41:00] my, my circles of coworkers, you just kind of get this idea that maybe, oh, everybody moves around. No, no, actually not everybody moves around. And in fact the majority of people move less than 50 miles away from where they grew up. I think the statistic is something like 53%.

[00:41:22] Christi: I'm like blown away. 

[00:41:23] Mark: It's just funny. Cause you know, all the places we've been, for us, the mindset that we have, the circle of friends and coworkers that we have. It's like, it's so normal to us and we don't even realize, oh, you know, like this idea of being states away from family and raising a family without, having grandma and grandpa right across town, that's our normal.

But it turns out that it's not that normal. 

[00:41:49] Christi: Well, thank you for sharing that. You've given me a lot of food for thought . 

[00:41:53] Mark: It's an adventure. We definitely had a good time with it. 

[00:41:56] Christi: I hope that this continues to [00:42:00] be as rewarding. It's more than a job, a career as you've described it.

[00:42:05] Mark: Yeah. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything. It's been such an adventure. The people we've met along the way, the areas of the country we've seen. 

[00:42:14] Christi: And it's real service. It's true service. 

[00:42:17] Mark: Yeah. I appreciate that. Especially since, you know, I worked nights one week I work days, the next I work evenings, the next, my days off are all over the place to me. That's normal, but it's like, yeah, it's sometimes I wonder what it's like to, to work a Monday through Friday, regular job. So, and I miss holidays, sometimes I miss birthdays.

I miss family events sometimes. So there is a service aspect to it at the same time though. It's what I feel like I was born to do. I love what I do. And a lot of people can't say that the job that they love is the job that they have is, is doing something they love. And I get to say that, [00:43:00] and that's a privilege.

[00:43:01] Christi: Well on that happy note, I am going to say, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for doing this for moving along, 

[00:43:09] Mark: you're very welcome Christi and hope you have a good weekend and beyond.