With Rich Pollman of the National Weather Service
Rich Pollman, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service Detroit/Pontiac (actually located in White Lake off White Lake Road), knew what he wanted to do from a young age. He lives in Howell with his wife, Shawn, and two daughters, Sarah and Kylie. The Spinal Column caught up with him to learn more.
How did you become a meteorologist?
“There was one life event when I was three years old, and it’s my earliest memory. I was watching ‘Emergency 51’ and I looked outside and the one and only tree we had in our backyard was on fire from a power line that came down. From what my mom says, it was a weak tornado that went through the neighborhood. I still can picture that backyard and that tree, engulfed in flames. Ever since that time I’ve had this interest in weather. I was in Toledo for my very young years. In first and second grade I would give the weather report on the morning announcements. In my college years, I got to work for John McMurray’s weather company, and, at the same time, I was also student volunteering at the National Weather Service office [the former Ann Arbor office.] That’s where I got to see that I wanted to be in the weather service, rather than in the broadcast industry.”
What are some of the highlights of your career before ending up at the center, and how did you end up there?
“I grew up in Temperance, Michigan, which is basically a suburb of Toledo. From there I went on to The University of Michigan, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology. After I graduated, I got right into the Weather Service. I started at the old Flint office and moved to the Detroit/Pontiac office. So, I was here at the D/P office for three years, then I moved to the East Tennessee office outside of Knoxville for three years before I came back here in late 2001.”
What is the mission/goal of the center? What kind of work do you do and how does that tie into the center’s goal/mission?
“To talk about our office specifically. We issue watches, warnings, advisories and forecasts for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the nation’s economy.”
“We’re a full federal agency. We’re under the Department of Commerce. Underneath that is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and underneath that is the National Weather Service and other agencies.”
“One of the jobs I’m responsible for is outreach coordinator. I arrange, organize and talk to various groups that are weather sensitive, including emergency management, the media, spotters, pilots, boaters and schools. Those are the broad groups – we’ll go out and talk to anybody about weather safety. We get a lot of hazardous weather that we have to issue warnings and advisories for, but it’s never as extreme as other locations in the country. We average 16 tornados per year in the state of Michigan; most of them are weak compared to the south and Tornado Alley, where they have more tornados and they tend to be stronger.”
Explain what you would most like people to understand about your job. Is there something you do that people might not know about?
“We’re here every day, 24/7, issuing forecasts and ready to issue warnings as conditions warrant. People are somewhat familiar with our forecasts through the website, but we have forecast information that helps other business sectors in Southeast Michigan, such as our aviation forecast and our marine forecast. We also provide weather information to government agencies to help them do their jobs better. Those government agencies are local state and federal – all levels.”
“We launch a weather balloon at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, every day of the year. We send up this weather instrument; we get temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed and direction.”
“We have the ability to keep on forecasting and issuing warnings for Southeast Michigan…We have backup systems and we even have backup offices. If there’s a tornado headed here, we have a safe tornado shelter and we would have the Grand Rapids office take responsibility for those 10 or 15 minutes while we were taking shelter. The other example is if there’s some sort of communications outage. That’s another time that a backup might happen.”