Meet the Men Behind California’s Drought Response Team

As the extreme drought drags on in the West, it’s more important than ever for state and local officials to make informed decisions about water resources. Lucky for them, expert meteorologists, climatologists and hydrologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) work to provide the scientific information needed to make these decisions. This often complex task of supporting the development and delivery of climate science information for multiple Western states falls, primarily, on two men: Kevin Werner and Alan Haynes.

Information Coordination

As NOAA’s Western Regional Climate Services Director, Werner coordinates across multiple agencies to develop and deliver a wide range of climate data, products and services. The team’s latest work, NOAA’s 2014 service assessment, focuses on California’s drought. Werner’s 20-plus person team interviewed a variety of technical specialists, government leaders and industry experts to document the impact of the state’s drought on agriculture, water resources and fisheries.

On a daily basis, Werner works with NOAA agencies including Regional Climate Centers, the National Weather Service and the National Drought Information System to ensure their information aligns with the millions of annual data requests from citizens, state and federal agencies and weather-sensitive businesses.

To accomplish this, Werner coordinates the flow of information. He collaborates with key stakeholders in the Western region to identify their needs related to climate and drought, and then communicates those needs to NOAA services in the region. NOAA agencies then deliver this information online.

Decoding Drought

Haynes, a Service Coordination Hydrologist for the California Nevada River Forecast Center, is one of the many people Werner relies on to assist his coordination efforts. Haynes and his team integrate water, weather and climate data to produce hydrologic forecasts for the California and Nevada region.

“To do this, you have to be at it every day: managing data, doing quality control and keeping the systems up and running,” Haynes says.

And “at it every day” he is: keeping his team on a systematic daily schedule.

At 6am each day, meteorologists at the center work on forecasting while hydrologists use software to perform quality control on stream gage data from the California Data Exchange Center, which monitors water levels throughout the state. The hydrologists then use visualization tools to predict future water levels. Double-checking information and performing quality control are key components to producing accurate data.

Clever Management Means Organization and Collaboration

Both men’s organizational and collaborative skills are put to the test every day as they work to uphold NOAA’s goal of providing climate service information to people in these drought-effected states so they can make informed decisions about water.

On a macro level, Werner coordinates between decision makers and NOAA agencies to identify needs and deliver corresponding information and products. On a micro level, Haynes ensures his team develops and delivers accurate climate data to meet those needs; following up to confirm people are able to understand and interpret the data.

Needs are constantly changing, and looking to the future, NOAA hopes to improve precipitation predictions with better science-based modeling systems to help people better manage water resources. It’s up to Werner and Haynes to continue to develop avenues to meet those needs.

“Better decisions are being made,” Werner says. “We are in a much better place than if we didn’t have the quality of NOAA information that is being brought to the table.”

ABOUT Rian Ervin

Rian Ervin is a freelance journalist and writer with experience in emerging and enterprise technologies.