Meet Dave Jorgensen
Riding turbulence to improve storm warnings
During his NOAA career, Dave Jorgensen has quite literally experienced a lot of turbulence. In 10 years with the National Hurricane Center and more than 20 at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., he has flown around and through hurricanes, typhoons, winter cyclones, and thunderstorms. These experiences are an asset in communicating with scientific peers, general audiences, and the news media about severe weather. As chief of the NSSL Warnings Research and Development Division, Jorgensen and his team work to capitalize on the current Doppler radar system through product and performance improvement and “trying to get the last second of warning time out of the existing system.”
Another way he works to communicate about NOAA research is through American Meteorological Society publications. He was co-chief editor of the AMS Monthly Weather Review for ten years, and helped implement the current AMS online system with the goal of “not using one piece of paper” to get work published. He is now the AMS Publications Commissioner, choosing editors for the nine AMS journals.
Why is your research important?
We seek to understand the processes that produce severe weather, develop observing systems and applications and products to detect hazardous weather, and make warnings more effective. Our work contributes directly to the NOAA objectives of saving lives and mitigating property damage.
How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?
I give talks at scientific meetings and also to general audiences. I respond to media requests and tell news reporters about research results and their importance to the general public.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I get a lot of satisfaction from designing new approaches to improve the warning process, working with strong teams to collect and analyze data sets, and presenting the results in talks and journal papers.
Where do you do most of your work?
My time is split between the lab’s office environment and in the field collecting data sets. I've been involved in field campaigns around the world studying convective storms using the NOAA P-3 aircraft. Some of the notable ones are TAMEX (Taiwan Area Mesoscale Experiment Okinawa, Japan in 1987); TOGA/COARE (Tropical Oceans/Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Response Experiment in 1993 from Guadalcanal, Soloman Islands); VORTEX (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment from Oklahoma City in 1994-1995); FASTEX (Frontals and Storm Tracks Experiment in Shannon, Ireland in 1998); MAP (Mesoscale Alpine Project in Innsbruck, Austria in 1999); BAMEX (Bow Echo Mesoscale Experiment from St. Louis, Mo., in 2003); and most recently DYNAMO (Dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation in Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean in 2011). Most of these projects involved deployments of one to two months.
Before coming to NSSL, I was a researcher at the National Hurricane Research Laboratory in Miami from 1974-1984. I flew into many strong hurricanes. In fact, my Ph.D. dissertation was on the dynamics of Hurricane Allen in 1980, a cat-5 storm at times during the seven days we flew it. While at NHRL, I led a team that developed the vertically scanning airborne Doppler radar, which is now being used to initialize one of the hurricane computer models to provide improved intensity forecasts.
What in your office or lab could you not live without?
If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?
I would love to have a system to observe the atmosphere at scales from 0.1 kilometer to planetary and at a time scale precise to minutes. Lack of detailed observations is the biggest challenge in understanding severe weather and making better predictions for it.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
As a child, I would watch big thunderstorms from a distance and wonder what was going on to make them grow and move. Those moments were my first inkling that I wanted a career in science.
How did you become interested in communicating about science?
As a graduate student, I would speak with colleagues about research results. Seeing their excitement in learning new things encouraged my interest in communicating about science. Also, seeing how little the general public knows about basic meteorology and climatology concepts has motivated me to speak to broader audiences about our work.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring career options?
For someone considering a career in meteorology, the AMS historical monograph Thor's Legions: Weather Support to the U. S. Air Force and Army, 1937-1987 is an exciting look about the challenges and rewards of forecasting. The stories surrounding the pressures of forecasting for D-Day during WWII are particularly interesting.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
Dealing so much in budgets and writing proposals to outside agencies to scrounge resources to do NOAA science.
Do you have an outside hobby?
I love to storm chase if not too much long-distance driving is involved.
What would you be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
I can’t imagine a better career than a NOAA research scientist, but I’ve always enjoyed flying. Probably an airline pilot.
Dave Jorgensen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology at Texas A&M University, and his Ph.D. at Colorado State University. His dissertation on the mesoscale and convective scale characteristics of mature hurricanes helped him garner a position at the National Hurricane Research Laboratory where he logged many hours on NOAA P-3 research aircraft.