Careers & Education

Meteorologist Evan Thompson helping J'cans understand weather

Storm watcher

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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AS Hurricane Sandy came barrelling into the island last Wednesday, it was on this man and his team that Jamaicans relied for information to understand exactly what they were in for.

He is Meteorologist Evan Thompson, manager of the Weather Branch at the island's Meteorological Service.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which packed winds of some 130 kilometres per hour, leaving in its wake one individual dead and hundreds displaced, Thompson talks to Career & Education about his profession — one that is so clearly vital in a society plagued by extreme weather events.

"After considering options of architecture, accounting and geology, my interest in meteorology was stimulated with a visit of a meteorologist during Career Day at my alma mater, Excelsior High School. It fell in line with my fascination with clouds and my love for Geography, Mathematics and Physics at the time," the married father of two children said of what prompted his entry into the field.

"Over the years, my job has included the observation of weather conditions, the recording and analysis of atmospheric phenomena and the forecasting of the weather and issuance of warnings related to severe weather conditions," added the meteorologist, who has more than 24 years of experience in the field under his belt.

Of course, as head of the Weather Branch, Thompson — who holds a bachelor of science degree in Meteorology from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus in Barbados — is currently more concerned with the co-ordination of these activities in the Met Office.

His current duties include being a part of the service's management team with responsibility for the activities related to the Weather Branch. These activities include the Forecast Centre, the Synoptic Sub-Station, the Upper-Air Station, the Radar Station, and the Instruments and Equipment Section.

In his more than two decades of service to the Met Office, he has weathered with Jamaica several storms and hurricanes, among them Gilbert, which is talked about with some degree of awe even to this day on the island.

"Hurricane Gilbert occurred within two weeks of my employment [in September 1988]," said Thompson, who is in his 40s. "Since then, there have been a number of misses as well as impact from Ivan, Gustav, Charley, Dean, Nicole, Sandy, and others."

Prior to becoming employed to the Met Office, he spent more than a year in the Economics Division of the Ministry of Finance.

"At that time, I performed mainly clerical duties related to loan and grant arrangements between Jamaica and a number of international funding organisations," he said.

Meanwhile, Thompson is the first to note how thoroughly he loves his job.

"My greatest joy at the moment is knowing that members of the public understand more about the weather because of my ability to communicate it to them. It is not always easy to explain difficult, technical terms and concepts to a public that is not trained in that area," he said.

However, it is not without its challenges.

"Among the challenges I face is the seeming unimportance that the weather in the day-to-day life of some members of the public. Few people pay attention to the forecast daily, so severe weather situations often surprise them. Although lacking in facts, I often hear, 'you did not say this was coming' or 'you weather people always get it wrong'. We need to check the facts," he said.

Who is a Meteorologist?

A Meteorologist is a scientist who studies weather and climate conditions and situations related to the behaviour of the atmosphere.

What are the academic requirements for entry into the field?

Entry into the field of meteorology requires qualifications in Mathematics and Physics. As an observer or meteorological technician, one may enter with five CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) passes in Mathematics, English language and a science subject, preferably physics. However, in order to be employed as a Meteorologist, a first degree in meteorology, or alternately Mathematics or Physics, with additional training in meteorology, would be required.

What other skills and/or competencies are required for entry into the field?

Workers at the Meteorological Service ideally possess skills in the use of the computer, attention to detail and the ability to work with others on a team. Team members also need to be versatile, able to work long hours and in a shift system as well as be transferable to areas outside of Kingston for long periods.

How much can one earn annually as a Meteorologist?

Currently Meteorologists in Jamaica earn anywhere between $1 million and $2.5 million per annum, and this excludes other allowances that are earned for shift duty, travelling, etc.

Why would you advise anyone to get into the field?

If the weather fascinates you, do not miss your calling. Meteorology is still a relatively young science so there are still lots of new discoveries and improvements taking place every day.

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