"Innovative Weather gave me the experience that essentially I wouldn't have gotten until I started doing my first job. Dealing with customers, recording audio and helping to teach interns all helped give me the experience that I have been able to use in my current position as well as issuing alerts and 'warnings' for our clients."
Growing up, Chris Spannagle was always interested in weather. He remembers running to the window every time a storm would roll through, and he was constantly glued to the weather channel waiting to see the radar. As an adult, Chris worked with Innovative Weather from May of 2007 to October of 2008, and became the first employee at Innovative to graduate when he received his masters in December of 2007. While an employee at Innovative Weather, Chris preferred to forecast severe weather events. He says, "The biggest event I can remember working was June 7 and 8, 2008. There were numerous supercells and severe weather that lasted most of the day into the evening with 9 tornadoes, the largest hailstone ever to fall in Wisconsin and extreme straight-line winds. I was also working 2 days later when Lake Delton emptied out into the Wisconsin River." Currently, Chris works as a research meteorologist at the National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Branch and the University of Oklahoma/CIMMS (Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies). He got the position in part due to his time at IW.
"Innovative Weather provides an avenue to bring classroom knowledge to a real world setting while simultaneously working towards a degree, resulting in practical experience in addition to a diploma, making any candidate with that background attractive and valuable to future employers."
Kate Smith joined the Innovative Weather team in 2007 as one of the first forecasters while working on her Masters degree at UWM. She continued to work for Innovative Weather after graduation while also working as a research meteorologist at UWM until 2009 when she decided to focus on her research career. Kate now works as an Associate Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, where she currently focuses on ensemble forecasting system development, implementing new schemes and techniques into WRF, post processing software, and surge modeling. She enjoys the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of research topics and new modeling techniques. Although Kate is no longer in forecasting disciple, the value of the Innovative Weather experience is immeasurable and played a significant role in getting Kate onto her current research career path. As a researcher at NCAR it is important to not only be at the forefront of new research techniques, applications and theories, but to also understand how those elements impact and apply to real world weather problems and to the users of the new information and technology. Having working knowledge of weather impacts is helpful in determining whether or not new techniques and schemes are behaving correctly and effectively. It is essential to be able to sift through the large amounts of information and decipher what pieces are important or relevant to a particular problem or recipient of that information, and to be able to anticipate what information is needed and how it will be used. The experience gained from working at Innovative Weather provided the means to hone those skills: taking the science and data and forming it into information in a manner that is useful to the end user, and continually working to improve the information as well as the methods by which it is attained.
"Working in the National Weather Service isn't just about forecasting the weather. There is a lot of interaction with customers, whether it be the public, event organizers, or heads of other government agencies. Innovative Weather helped me learn how to concisely articulate the most important facets of a complex forecast scenario in order to meet a client's specific needs."
Mike Kurz can trace his interest in meteorology back to grade school and remembers being amazed at the destruction left behind by an F3 tornado that ravaged Wautoma in 1992. As a middle schooler, Mike resolved to become a meteorologist after repeatedly borrowing all of the library's tornado videos. His interest in weather grew exponentially through college, and he received both his Bachelors (2007) and Masters (2009) degrees in Atmospheric Science from UWM. Right out of high school and through graduate school, Mike interned at WTMJ, where he had the privilege of learning from Milwaukee meteorologist legends John Malan and Paul Joseph. Additionally, Mike was one of the original Innovative Weather forecasters when the operation began in May 2007, and he remained with IW until January 2010 when he accepted a position with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio. Aside from launching weather balloons and forecasting, one of his favorite aspects of his current position is venturing outside the office to interact with NWS customers at outreach events. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling to various historical and scenic sites and playing Celtic music on his fiddle.
"Innovative Weather has given me the skills to excel at the communication aspect of this. We live in a job market now where graduates with a 4 year degree can no longer easily obtain work, and yet many 'trade' jobs are struggling to get filled; this is a sure sign that obtaining the necessary hands-on, technical skills are invaluable to succeed and get to the next level."
Like most people that enter a career in meteorology, I've had an interest in weather since I was little. I remember always being fascinated watching The Weather Channel while my dad prepared to work his lawn maintenance business each day. I can even remember posting forecasts from television on the bulletin board of my third grade classroom. My love for weather continued right through college, where I went on several storm chases through the Atmospheric Science Club at UWM. I would ultimately complete my Bachelor's Degree in 2007 and Master's in 2009. I was a part of the original Innovative Weather team from May 2007 until December 2010. Serving for Innovative Weather not only made me a better forecaster, but a better leader and a much better communicator. These skills were developed through things such as frequent communication with Innovative Weather's clients during adverse weather conditions, mentoring new staff and recording audio for our radio clients. Speaking of radio, I will never forget preparing for an evening shift at Innovative Weather on January 7th, 2008. Record January warmth preceded severe thunderstorms that afternoon, which resulted in several tornadoes over southeast Wisconsin. One included an EF-3 which spun up around 6 miles southeast of my parents' house! Recording audio for NPR that evening, mentioning confirmed tornadoes that produced significant damage on a January day is an event I will never forget. The skills gained at IW are directly transferrable to my current position as a meteorologist intern at the National Weather Service in Gaylord, MI. We are 'first in line' for answering phone calls, which frequently include briefing entities like school boards and road commissions on the forecast situation, as well as doing both recorded and live interviews for our media partners.
"Innovative Weather helped me by giving me the opportunity to apply my meteorological knowledge obtained in the classroom to real world situations. This was a great way to further my understanding and appreciation of the science. I also helped with training new interns and attended meetings with clients, which strengthened my personal and professional confidence."
Dawn Kopacz was with Innovative Weather for nearly four years, from January of 2008 through August of 2011. During that time, she worked thousands of hours, but one event in particular has stuck with her. "My most memorable forecasting experience was Thursday, July 22nd, 2010. In the morning there was a large area of moderate to heavy rain that moved through southern WI, leaving anywhere from 0.5-2 inches of rain across the area. During the afternoon hours, a round of strong to severe storms developed and moved through the area, and then the storms began training over the Milwaukee area through the evening hours. So in addition to lightning, winds and several tornadoes affecting portions of southern WI, there were torrential rains and flash flooding. Travel through the city of Milwaukee and nearby areas became dangerous and nearly impossible. Rainfall totals for the day ranged from 5-9 inches in many areas, including a report of 6.73 inches falling between 5:15-6:15pm at WTMJ-4 on Capitol Drive. It was a long but very exciting day!" Dawn gained hands-on experience forecasting at Innovative Weather, but it also offered her an opportunity to hone her communication skills in a professional setting. Dawn will complete her Ph.D. in Mathematics with an Atmospheric Science concentration in May 2015 and plans to teach at the college level. "I want to help students realize that math and science isn't just about memorizing theories and formulas, rather those equations and principles are tools that allow us to evaluate and understand our world. I want to help? students reach their academic and professional goals, and show them that a degree in meteorlogy can lead to many different career paths." In her spare time, Dawn enjoys sewing, outdoor activities like hiking and fishing, and spending quality time with her husband and their two-year old son.
Growing up in Beaver Dam, WI Zach Uttech was always fascinated by the day-to-day and season-to-season volatility of weather. He quickly developed a passion for winter weather and had a desire to understand why snowstorms and other meteorological phenomena occurred. Zach received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, then came to UW–Milwaukee to complete his Masters and work at Innovative Weather. He was with IW from November of 2011 until April of 2012, when he completed his graduate study. During that time, Zach worked many severe weather situations, but one in particular stands out. "My most memorable forecasting experience at IW was when a bow-echo squall line of thunderstorms moved across southern Wisconsin during the summer of 2011. This line of severe storms produced wind gusts over 70 mph and frequent cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. For this specific event, we were able to forecast, for our clients, the potential for severe thunderstorms several days in advance which allowed them ample time to prepare. It was a very rewarding experience when I saw our forecasts come to fruition and we were able to notify Lake Express (one of our clients) of the impending danger a few hours before it arrived. Provided with this information, Lake Express moved their ferry away from the Lake Michigan coastline before the severe winds hit ' thereby preventing potential damage from rocks and other near-shore obstacles." Zach was immediately hired as a Meteorologist Intern at the National Weather Service office in Great Falls, Montana upon completion of his Master's degree.
"Forecasting skills cannot really be fully developed in a classroom. You have to experience various real-life forecasting situations and the pressure to make decisions - this is an experience that IW provided. I also became a much more efficient communicator, both to clients (and subsequently to future employers), and to the non-meteorological public."
John Peters completed both his Bachelors and Masters degrees at UWM, the latter of which he finished in May of 2012. He is now working on his PhD at Colorado State University. John's interest in weather was spawned, like many of his colleagues, as a young child. "I initially became interested in geology and volcanology at a very young age - if I remember correctly, 3 years old. I saw a program on TV that showed footage of a volcanic eruption in Hawaii, and I became instantly fascinated. Over the years, this interest spread to other powerful natural processes, such as earthquakes, waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, and various astronomical phenomena. I suppose the interest in weather 'stuck,' since I could easily observe it in my every-day life as opposed to volcanoes, the evolution of rocks, or distant stars/galaxies." He is one of the longest tenured employees of Innovative Weather, from December of 2008 until July of 2012, and that time served him well.
"Innovative Weather prepared me for operational weather forecasting by teaching me the core fundamentals of forecasting, working with a team, and communicating with a diverse client-base and understanding their daily needs. Especially the importance of client-communication and their relationships."
Michael Hansen graduated with a Bachelors of Science in May of 2011, and worked with Innovative Weather from June 2009 through July 2012. Like many other meteorologists, Michael has had an innate fascination about the weather for as long as he can remember. Michael started his career as a Marine Meteorologist in Houston, Texas, in 2012, handling weather forecasts for the oil and gas industry as well as marine transport. As of 2019, he is working for DTN as an Energy Meteorologist, and works part time in computer programming to create tools for his teammates and products for his clients. His most memorable experience was Hurricane Harvey while in Houston, Texas in 2017. He experienced first-hand the record-setting rainfall, as well as the widespread destruction and lasting impacts for local businesses and several close friends
I began working at Innovative Weather in early September after returning for my final year in the Atmospheric Science M.S. program. Since graduating with a B.S. in Atmospheric Science in 2009, my experience has mainly encompassed weather modification for both governmental and private clients. Innovative Weather is giving me the skills and basic on the job experience that an employee at a standard operational forecasting company is expected to have. Upon graduating, I hope to work in an environmental field, in hydrology, or in LGBT advocacy. I occupy my spare time with writing, reading, and enjoying the alternative art scene in Milwaukee.
"I consider Innovative Weather my first 'real' job in the sense that I had the opportunity to deal with real, paying clients and experience both rewards and consequences created by the service I gave, all based on theories I learned in the classroom. The maturity I experienced while working at Innovative has been invaluable and I still use the critical thinking skills I learned to this day."
I graduated from UWM with a B.S. in Atmospheric Science in May of 2012, and I am now working on my master's degree in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. I've had a fascination with science and nature for as long as I can remember, and my interests evolved with rock collections, space posters, and dinosaur books. Finally, in about fifth grade, I discovered meteorology and never looked back. I joined the Innovative Weather program in June of 2010 as an intern, and ended a little over a year later, in September of 2011. It was a hard decision to leave, but I felt a strong pull towards research in the topic of air pollution, sparked by a study abroad trip in January 2011 to Mexico to examine the effects of air pollution on the ancient monuments spread throughout the country. This is what I continue to study at CSU. A very vivid memory for me is actually a collection of multiple occasions when severe weather was likely to strike our client's service areas, only to hit just outside of our forecast zone. I recall the built-up tension and nervousness all suddenly alleviated (besides having to explain to the client why we made such a dire forecast, of course), reminding me just how young and imaginative our field truly is—and how far I was from mastering the science of weather forecasting.
Other students who have worked with Innovative Weather since 2007
Jennifer Knapkiewicz, Collin Witherow, Mark Kleemann, Kyle Franzen, Ryan Franke, Sarah Reinke, Melissa Schumann, Brandon , Erica , Jason Palleria, Joey Zipperer, Vinnie Stepnock, Meghan Wessel, Jordan Lamers, Alex Manion, Devon Bertnick