CAMP SPRINGS - Growing up, Mike Schichtel was the kind of kid who used to
run outside when thunderstorms and snowstorms blasted his neighborhood.
"I grew up wanting to do this," said Schichtel, who was later a storm
chaser in Oklahoma. "Now I get paid for it."
He is one of a 42-member crew of meteorologists at the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration's offices in Camp Springs who have been
working around the clock to track Hurricane Isabel as it barrels down on the
Their primary goal is to provide enough information to get people out of
harm's way -- but many of the forecasters at the Hydrometeorological
Prediction Center in Camp Springs admit to being thrilled by major weather
events like Isabel.
"You'll find people in the weather service get really hyped up about
major weather events," said NOAA's forecast operating chief Robert Kelly.
"This has the potential to be a big deal."
This time, however, their interest is not just professional. Unlike the
hurricanes they track in Florida or Louisiana, Hurricane Isabel is in their
"It definitely makes it real," said James Hoke, director of the
hydrometeorological center. "There's a double concern for people in general
and a very personal concern that your family is cared for."
Schichtel said that while he is drawn to the center of the action, for
example, his sons "are the opposite of me. They like to run away from
And despite the walls of maps and the intricate weather tracking programs
at their disposal, it seems the NOAA staff is not immune to the storm frenzy
that gripped other Maryland residents, buying groceries and batteries,
installing storm windows or worrying about their boats.
For nearly 30 years, the Camp Springs office has been tracking snowstorms
and tornadoes and creating weekly forecasts. It is the backup to the
higher-profile Tropical Prediction Center, also known as the National
Hurricane Center in Miami.
But while it is unknown to most people around the Beltway, the Camp
Springs office is regularly called on by the White House, the Department of
Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the latest
Hurricane Isabel update.
Their lower profile does not mean that the meteorologists in Camp Springs
take their job any less seriously, however.
In a medium-sized, fluorescent-lit office without a hint of natural
light, the crew has been pulling 10-hour shifts keeping tabs on Hurricane
Isabel. But in interviews Wednesday, most said they enjoy the work.
"I've always been interested in science and the weather," said Jessica
Clark. "It's great to be able to see weather patterns before everyone else."
Clark, like Schichtel, is a medium-range forecaster who works on weather
patterns five days in advance. While their colleagues kept a close eye on
the hurricane Wednesday, they had a little more leeway -- on their
medium-range maps, Hurricane Isabel has already crossed the United States
and headed into Canada.
2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
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