Juneau weatherman pressed into service

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

Weather forecasting can be more than a job. But Chris Maier, the warning coordination meteorologist at Juneau's National Weather Service office, said he's enjoying the adventure.

Since Saturday, he's been helping respond to a Malaysian freighter that broke in half off the west side of Unalaska Island in the Aleutians.

With Bering Sea waves as tall as 25 feet, workers are skimming oil from the ship's spill and working to rescue wildlife on the beach and salvage the 738-foot Selendang Ayu.

"It's great any time you get to get out and work with the folks who really need weather information, and you get immediate feedback," Maier said via satellite telephone.

For more on freighter

Houston-based team to take another look at salvage plan

Maier is up by 5:30 a.m. to get to the incident management team's command center in a small hotel meeting room in Dutch Harbor.

"It's laptop DSL-cable city," he said, describing the web of cables and portable computers in the room.

People need to know what they'll face from the elements, he said. Workers are on the water and in the air at varying altitudes with both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

There's an 8:30 a.m. briefing, and through the day he huddles with helicopter pilots asking how they'll be working - "what's on the deck, what kind of turbulence they can expect, the winds and icing."

There's another forecast at 2 p.m. Meanwhile, he keeps in contact with regular area forecasters who know what the weather can do. He also coordinates issues with headquarters and works to get information on the weather service Web site.

Spending the holiday season at the Bering Sea isn't his first choice, he said. He has "a lovely wife and beautiful 6-month-old daughter at home." His schedule calls for him to finish his assignment on Dec. 24 or Dec. 26.

Maier trained to be an incident responder when he was working in Salt Lake City. He wanted to work with people fighting wildfires, and he was called out about 40 times.

After coming to Juneau about three years ago, he volunteered to train to respond to oil spills.

"You're dealing with folks whose lives are on the line," he said. "You get a lot of storms here, especially in the winter. The weather gets ugly very fast."

Maier said he has been impressed with watching people from the Coast Guard risk their lives for the cause, just as he admires the work of firefighters.

His scariest moment, though, came on his plane's approach into Dutch Harbor, he said. "I know what I'm getting into when I get in the air."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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