Aspiring meteorologist Shawn Wallace ’23 always has his eyes on the skies. “I started storm spotting this past spring when I knew I wanted to pursue meteorology in college,” the Post Grad said. “I have always had an interest in the weather and will be studying meteorology at SUNY Brockport this upcoming fall. I think it is so cool to be able to go out and observe thunderstorms. By monitoring the storm, I am the eyes on the ground, so if something happens that could become dangerous, I can report it to the NWS and they can issue a warning.”
“NWS” is the U.S. National Weather Service, an agency that offers training for civilian volunteers to help report dangerous weather conditions. Shawn is already a certified Skywarn Storm Spotter for the NWS Norton/Boston Forecast Office and the NWS Gray/Portland Maine Forecast Office (which oversees the forecast for all of New Hampshire and most of Maine). He has recently taken the advanced Skywarn Storm Spotting class to become a certified Skywarn Storm Spotter with the Albany NWS Forecast Office.
Shawn admits he hopes he never has to report on anything “super serious,” but enjoys knowing that storm spotting allows him to help others who may not be as weather aware. He has logged more than 30+ hours of observation and reports since April 2022, and also runs a Snapchat story where he posts weather warnings, watches, or advisories issued for his hometown of Pomfret, Connecticut. “About 65 kids in my old school took such an interest in my passion for the weather that I also post my own daily weather reports all summer,” he shared.
Along with his spotting work, Shawn also gets, in his words, “some pretty sick pictures!” (a few shown here). Ominous cloud formations that need to be reported also warrant capturing their tremendous beauty.
A BRIEF SCARE
Every weather watcher has a story of their scariest weather moment. For Shawn, it was two summers ago. He was moving from Stow, Massachusetts (due west of Boston) to Pomfret, Connecticut, and he had to take shelter during a mini tornado outbreak—the remnants of Tropical Storm Henri. “Funnel clouds and several tornadoes had touched down in neighboring towns and were heading toward our house. Our family took shelter in our basement while the storms passed through. We later learned that a tornado had briefly touched down about 5 miles away in the center of town, bringing down a large oak tree,” he recalls. “I don't think I have ever been scared of a storm, just because I am weather aware.” And while safety is always first, Shawn admits he’s eagerly waiting to spot and chase his first severe thunderstorm since getting his spotter certificate. “This past summer was really quiet where I live,” he notes.
Shawn organized a unique opportunity in May for fellow Brewster students to receive training from the National Weather Service to become certified Skywarn Storm Spotters. With reports of severe and sometimes deadly weather caused by climate change on the rise, the role of these volunteer Spotters is more crucial than ever before. The training taught students how to identify and report severe weather including large hail, damaging wind, tornadoes, and flooding, as well as how to maintain awareness for safety.
“By attending this webinar training, people have the opportunity to become a certified weather spotter for the NWS Gray, Maine Forecast Office,” Shawn said, adding that all 13 students who attended, plus faculty members Dr. Jeffery Link and Ms. Barb Thomas, are now certified.
“The weather spotter program leverages our community members who have a passion for the weather by being our ‘eyes on the ground’ across the entire country” says Donny Dumont, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. “Spotter training teaches you how to identify and report severe weather as well as how to maintain awareness, which will help keep you and your loved ones safe and may even save the lives of others! It was great for Shawn to advertise and educate so many classmates and even instructors about the program.” There is also training for winter weather observations, which includes how to accurately measure snow, freezing rain, and sleet.
“Shawn is committed to learning why something happens,” Dr. Link shares. “As an example, when we were going through the spotter training, Shawn made sure everyone understood why and how a storm develops by talking about flows of hot air up and cold air down and why certain storms occur more regularly in different parts of the country. His excitement for the subject made the whole process a lot of fun.”
Mr. Dumont notes that Shawn is like many meteorologists, whose interest in the weather came at a young age: “Most of us know that we want to major in meteorology when we reach high school and are completely infatuated with all things weather.”
PREDICTING THE FUTURE
If you think “Al Roker” when you hear the word “meteorologist,” well, you are partially correct. A degree in meteorology can also lead to careers outside of on-air forecasting. “Personally, I am most interested in forecasting and Mesoscale Meteorology,” Shawn says. (Don’t worry, this writer had to look it up too.
Mesoscale meteorology is the study of atmospheric phenomena with typical spatial scales between 10 and 1000 kilometers, and can include thunderstorms, gap winds, downslope windstorms, land-sea breezes, and squall lines.) “I don't really know where my path will take me, but I think a job in the National Weather Service, private industry, or our armed forces are likely landing spots for me once I start my career after graduating college.”
“I came into my PG year at Brewster with the understanding that this was my chance to make the most of my high school career,” Shawn explains. “This year was an opportunity for me to strive to get better in the classroom and athletically, especially after a rollercoaster of a high school career filled with ups and downs, injury, defeat, and triumph.”
Being set on meteorology, Shawn took courses related to his chosen field of science, doubling up with AP Chemistry with Dr. Link and Astronomy with Mrs. Emily James. “Astronomy has been a great choice because I have gotten to learn how the sun, moon, and our orbit affects our weather here on Earth. I also decided to take AP Calculus with Mrs. Found because Meteorology is a very math-heavy field. Everyone has really helped me and supported me every step of the way here at Brewster and I cannot thank them enough,” he says.
ADVICE FOR FELLOW BOBCATS
“My advice to anybody is just to be you, don't conform to what other people want you to be, don't be afraid to do something unpopular,” Shawn shares, adding that taking part in community service activities is high on his list. “I encourage students to go that extra mile to make themselves a better person, student, athlete, artist, etc. Strive to achieve what you want to, not what others want you to do.”