Hydrometeorologist helps make sense of Juneau's colorful weather

Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007

Outside the National Weather Service office near the Mendenhall Glacier, the winter weather takes many forms. Cold rain. Light powder. Wet snow.

On Kimberly Vaughan's computer screens, it's an ever-changing splash of colors. Orange flood warnings. Pink wind advisories. Temperatures in shades of red and blue.

As a hydrometeorological technician, Vaughan helps communicate with the public and put out short-term forecasts. She organizes a network of volunteers in Southeast Alaska who gather weather data. And she's an important part of the small, 24-hour staff that monitors the elements in 155,000 square miles of land and sea in Southeast Alaska

"We work real close as a team," Vaughan said.

A native of Portland, Ore., Vaughan, 37, stumbled into forecasting in 1989 after getting married and graduating from high school. She joined the U.S. Navy and became an aerographer's mate, tracking weather in the Gulf of Mexico. About a decade later, she left and joined the National Weather Service at its office in Cold Bay, Alaska.

"I decided to get out of the Navy, and this was a good opportunity to continue doing weather ... It was an easy fit," she said.

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With a population of about 90 people, Cold Bay had a great, small-town feel, she said.

"If you needed something, you knew you had your neighbors to rely on," Vaughan said.

Within a few years, she transferred to Yakutat, with its population of about 600. She gave short-term forecasts for Yakutat Bay. For fun, she rode a four-wheeler on the beach with her husband and daughter, now 14.

In 2002, they moved to Juneau. Now her duties vary from overseeing the forecasting computers to answering calls from people seeking information about the record snowfall. As part of a marine team, she visits ships and calibrates their barometers. As a leader of the Cooperative Observing Program, she checks up on area weather stations to make sure all the equipment is set up correctly.

"We have volunteers who report the weather every day," she said. "...It's really useful because they do temperature, precipitation and snow data."

Quick to credit her volunteers and her team, she is one of many who track the weather in local towns and waterways.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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