Patrick Hyland is a Research Meteorologist at OU Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) / NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).
Please include details about your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences.
I was born in Cleveland, OH and became fascinated with weather at an early age. A fear of storms, especially lightning and thunder, led to a curiosity in the weather and ultimately an interest in turning meteorology into a career. I excelled in math and science as a young student, and wanted a job that involved field work (not being stuck at a desk all the time), so I was naturally drawn to meteorology. I took as many math and science classes as possible, knowing that meteorology would require extensive work in those areas.
While searching for colleges to attend to pursue a degree in meteorology, I visited the University of Oklahoma. I toured Sarkeys Energy Center and learned about the School of Meteorology, and at that point, I discovered that the University of Oklahoma and NOAA partners were constructing the National Weather Center. I saw a scale model of the National Weather Center and knew that the University of Oklahoma was the place to go!
The National Weather Center was a big part of my life, and I wanted others to have that same appreciation, so when discussions began about providing student-led tours of the building, I jumped at the opportunity and was part of the original group of National Weather Center tour guides!
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology with Special Distinction from the University of Oklahoma in 2008, and received my Master of Science in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma in 2010.
What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?
After graduate studies, my first job in the field was Coordinator of External Relations for the National Weather Center and the OU College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences. In this role, I was responsible for bridging the gap between science and the public through informational tours and external outreach. My job included the oversight, coordination, and scheduling of all public, group, and private tours at the NWC. Additionally, I produced and added content to the various digital platforms at the NWC, including our Science on a Sphere, as well as maintained our social media presence. My role was also tasked with onsite and offsite NWC-branded merchandise sales. One of the most rewarding aspects of this role was leading the coordination efforts of the annual National Weather Festival at the NWC.
With the collocation of OU and NOAA partners at the NWC, I was able to build a lot of relationships with internal and external partners, so when I was looking for a career change, I secured a position as a Research Meteorologist with OU CIMMS/NOAA NSSL. Our research group is responsible for developing algorithms, products, tools, and techniques to improve the warning-decision making process for NWS forecasters, so we are assisting with the protection of life and property through valuable warning information dissemination. My work involves in-house experiments and workshops along with field work to collect severe weather data for continued analysis, so it is an awesome combination of all the things I love about meteorology!
What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?
When discussions about tours of the National Weather Center began when we moved into the facility, I knew this opportunity would not only improve my communication and public-speaking skills, but that it would also allow me to build relationships with people inside and outside the NWC. We were always told (while giving tours) that we would never know when we were interviewing for a job because of some of the unique visitors that would tour the facility, so I was able to market myself and build my brand over 13+ years of tours.
Also, never be afraid to approach your professors! I was doing particularly well in Cloud Physics during undergraduate (and the professor noticed), so I had discussions with said professor and he invited me to work with his graduate student on lightning research. This undergraduate work led to an offer to remain at OU for a Master of Science degree to expand this lightning research, and it ultimately led to additional research opportunities with other professors and projects that allowed me to do field work from coast-to-coast! It also opened the doors to becoming a partner at a consulting meteorology company because of my expertise in diagnosing severe weather and radar.
What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession?
Computer programming is becoming an essential skill not only in our field, but it seems in every field you could possibly think of because of the digital nature of our current world. I highly recommend immersing yourself in coding, but start of by coding fun projects instead of strictly assignments for class because you'll get much more enjoyment out of producing something useful and cool for yourself instead of just something for a grade.
Communication skills are also vital, so any classes or opportunities where you can get this practice will be extremely beneficial. As a scientist, you need to be able to effectively communicate your research not only to the research community, but everyone! If your grandma can understand what you do, then you have well-rounded knowledge about what you do and can explain it perfectly.
What is your typical day on the job like?
Our group has a number of different projects and experiments that we work on continuously, so a lot of us are bouncing between different projects as certain things are needed. This flexibility is really nice because it mixes up the workday, and there are unending opportunities to explore!
In my role, I spend a lot of time analyzing different datasets to analyze severe weather to assist with the production of algorithms, products, tools, and techniques to improve severe weather warning. During our experiments that occur throughout the year, I get to act as a project scientist/facilitator to teach NWS forecasters and others how to use different types of software and products while observing their decision making during projects.
What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is the people. Our group is composed of some incredibly smart people that are doing really amazing things, but they will stop everything to help others or provide some insight to point people in the right direction. We have a very laid back and casual work environment, but some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. There are also opportunities in this group to explore your own research and projects, so having flexibility is really nice too.
Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?
Absolutely! Given the research nature of our work, outside of the strict deadlines and experiments at certain times of the year, our work is very flexible and can be adjusted as needed without any crazy after-hours work. Our organization also promotes mental health wellness and provides different means to make sure that balance is reached for everyone.
Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?
During my graduate studies, I was funded by DARPA to research the lightning process using a number of mobile and transportable polarimetric radar platforms. While at two different facilities (International Center for Lightning Research and Testing in Camp Blanding, FL and Langmuir Laboratory in Soccorro, NM), I used these mobile and transportable radar platforms to examine the atmosphere coinciding with artificially-triggered lightning attempts.
One summer in Florida, we were impacted by Tropical Storm Debby (went over the facility where we were performing these triggered lightning attempts). Our group wanted to attempt a lightning trigger inside one of the rainbands of the tropical storm. Instead of waiting for the electric field to build at the launch facility, we informed the lightning crew that we would use our rapid-scanning radar to tell them when to launch a rocket for a triggered lightning attempt. We timed up the approach of the rainbands to the facility and were able to lead a radar-guided lightning trigger (the first time this was ever done)! It was the only lightning within 60 km of the North Florida triggering site for at least 20 h before and 8 h after the triggered flash, so we were elated! It was probably the coolest thing I've done!
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?
I don't think I would have done anything differently during my career. I am a firm believer in things happening for a reason, so my mentality is to go with the flow and enjoy the ride to see where life takes you! Never pass up an opportunity to do something new and cool because you never know where it will take you!
What are some ‘must haves’’ on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?
Meteorological research as a profession typically requires a graduate degree, so if you are interested in this field of meteorology, it is highly recommended that you pursue a Master of Science or Ph.D. in Meteorology because you will need to have some specialized expertise for this role.
Computer programming skills are also a big plus, so immerse yourself in software carpentry so you don't learn one particular programming language, but can apply concepts to programming to make learning new languages a lot easier.
As a research meteorologist, you will likely have to present your research at scientific conferences and publish your work, so communication and writing skills are very important!