As Hurricane Florence bares down on the Carolina’s, it is hard not to think of those directly effected. It doesn’t matter where you live, you have likely experienced a major weather related event. So, it’s understandable that those not in the wake of Florence’s path are still moved by it. Life’s banal activities quickly become seemingly inconsequential when one considers natural disasters. Major environmental events remind us what is most essential in life. NOAA’s Christopher Vaccaro is one of the people our country entrusts to get essential weather related information to us in a way that makes sense. Chris’s work, and the work done by his colleagues, are saving lives right now. Here’s “5 Questions with Christopher Vaccaro”.
JMK: Where did your passion for weather come from?
CV: Weather is so influential on our lives and I’ve always been inspired by its power and intrigued by the challenges with predicting its behavior. Weather has daily impacts from what we will wear, to whether we need an umbrella, to how our commute will be affected. Then there are less frequent – yet major – events such as hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, blizzards, droughts and floods that demonstrate the true power and force of nature and how vulnerable we can be. This raises the importance of timely and accurate forecasts as to best prepare for such events in advance to save lives and minimize impacts to property.
Most people in the field of meteorology cite a weather event that gave them the “weather bug.” For me, growing up on Long Island in New York, it was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 which brought high winds, heavy rain and the eerie calm eye of the storm as it passed over my childhood home. Snow, especially blizzards, also influenced my fascination. Living near the Atlantic Ocean, some storms brought tremendous snowfall and the wonder of whether school would be closed. However, there were other storms that disappointed snow lovers as the warmer ocean air changed the snow to a wintry slop of sleet and even plain liquid rain.
JMK: As someone who is so focused on science, what do you find satisfying about your role in PR at NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?
CV: My job is to make the meteorological information from NOAA and its National Weather Service as understandable and accessible as possible. Such important weather information is conveyed all day, every day across the United States and I find it exceptionally rewarding to know that my efforts help to get that information to those in harm’s way. Often this is done through the media who then convey the information to their audiences. This is also achieved through the agency’s website and social media platforms that reach the public directly.
JMK: Natural disasters are a horrific thing. What have you learned that uplifted you when you were on the ground?
CV: The worst weather can bring out the best in humanity. Living through a natural disaster can be exceptionally heartbreaking – whether experiencing it directly, seeing it on the news, or through the process of forecasting and warning for it. In 2011, I visited Joplin, Missouri after it was devastated by a tornado rated an EF-5 (the highest on the intensity scale) with winds greater than 200 mph. After a disaster, communities come together to support each other and can more quickly get back on their feet that way. While in Joplin, I visited the Joplin High School which took a direct hit from the tornado. In the school parking lot, a local group was grilling food for anyone who needed a meal – a very warm, yet surreal, sight. As I was standing near the food tent one of the cooks noticed the NOAA logo on my jacket. He walked up to me and said “I know who you are. Thank you.” Even though lives were tragically lost in that historic tornado, he knew that NOAA was the agency that issued the Tornado Warning that saved countless lives.
JMK: You are a frequent traveler. What area of this country has made the biggest impact on you?
CV: From a career standpoint, that would be the East Coast considering the region’s wide range of weather. But that diversity truly applies to the nation as a whole. Considering the geographical diversity of the U.S. as it spans from one ocean to another, has mountain ranges on both sides and has both a northern climate and elements of a tropical climate, this unique blending of climate zone creates some of the most extreme weather in the world. Nowhere on Earth are there more tornadoes than in the U.S., and our hurricane season commands the attention of a global audience. This nation is the place to be for studying and practicing in meteorology.
JMK: Natural disasters are inevitable. As someone located in a major urban hub, I often feel helpless. What do you recommend for people to do to help?
CV: No matter where you live, it’s critically important to be prepared for the weather. Know your risks (eg: tornadoes in the Midwest; flooding near a river or ocean, etc.) and make a plan on what you would do when life-threatening weather is expected. Have a to-go kit ready in the event you choose to leave your area or are directed to evacuate. Just as you’re prepared for a home fire with smoke alarms, water sprinklers and a fire extinguisher, you also need to have the right tools and information that will have you weather ready. For preparedness tips, I recommend visiting FEMA’s website www.ready.gov
Chris Vaccaro is the Senior Media Relations Specialists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based in Washington, D.C., where he leads the development of strategic media-focused communication activities for the agency and serves as a spokesperson. In this role, he supports the mission of protecting lives and property by working with and through the news media to get important information to the public. Previously, Vaccaro held other NOAA communication positions, working on issues regarding climate change, satellites, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and topics related to the ocean and atmosphere. He was also assistant weather editor at USA Today, where he developed exclusive weather and environment-related news content for the print, online and broadcast units. A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Nassau Community College with an associate’s in physical science, received a bachelor’s with concentrations in meteorology and social science from Lyndon State College, and earned a master’s in communications from the University of Oklahoma.