Ken Drozd is a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. From his office at Park Avenue and Sixth Street, he and about 22 other meteorologists analyze weather data and make forecasts; they're responsible for those monsoon warnings that crawl across the TV screen at the first sight of those dark chubasco clouds. For more information, search on Facebook for "US National Weather Service Tucson Arizona," or head to www.wrh.noaa.gov/twc for more on Tucson weather.
What do you want to do with the new Facebook page?
We try not to overwhelm people with constant posts about the weather. (The Facebook page) is not meant to be a weather-dissemination methodology. You can get that off our website or at weather.gov/Tucson. ... We try to put neat graphics out there, sometimes an outlook for the next few days, or a monsoon outlook for the summer, and outreach or education programs that are being offered.
What do you do from your office at the UA?
We're gathering all kinds of data, and we launch a weather balloon twice a day, at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., 365 days a year. Several dozen offices across the country are doing the same thing. That balloon goes up 20 miles into the atmosphere. That data from the upper air goes ... into supercomputers in Washington, D.C., and then the data goes out to forecast offices. We look at that data in order to make a forecast here.
What area of Arizona does the office cover?
From the White Mountains to Greenlee County down to Ajo. We cover five and a half counties. Pinal is split in half. There are Weather Service offices in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff. Las Vegas covers Mojave County and Northwest Arizona.
What's the purpose of the Weather Service?
Its primary mission is to protect life and property, and the way we do that is to issue warnings—and that could be for severe thunder storms, flash floods, dust storms and high winds, or red-flag warnings for dangerous fire conditions. (We also make) day-to-day forecasts. ... Having a local office in Tucson is also nice. It's always easier to forecast the weather closer to you. We know the area; we have a number of forecasters who have been here many years and know the area inside and out.
Right now, it's busy, so is winter the slow season?
Generally, fall is the quietest time of the year. A lot of people will say October is the best month around here. It picks up in winter. This last winter wasn't very active. We had a couple of freeze episodes that were damaging to plants and pipes. Two 17-degree mornings in a row in Tucson is pretty significant.
Could Tucson get a haboob, a sand storm like the one that hit Phoenix last week?
Typically, what happens is that these types of dust storms ... form because moisture is moving southeast to northwest. ... The downdrafts and downbursts pick up all of that dust between here and Phoenix, so they get more of the dust storms than we would.
How did you get interested in weather?
I grew up on the plains in Nebraska in tornado alley, so I was always aware of the weather as a kid growing up. I became interested in meteorology early on in ninth-grade, when I had to do a report on a career. I choose meteorology, and then pursued that through high school and figured out what I needed to do to get into college and get into the National Weather Service.
How did you end up in Tucson?
I actually was in Albuquerque, too. Well, I like thunderstorms, but I am not fond of winter weather. We still get thunderstorms, even in New Mexico, but not the cold weather.
So what's the forecast for the rest of the monsoon?
The monsoon forecast is maybe not as clear-cut as it has been in some years. We've had some competing influences, if you will—a very persistent low-pressure trough from the West Coast that was bringing us those southwest winds, and the dry conditions we had a month ago or so. That has been very persistent, it seemed like that would point to a drier monsoon for us. On the other hand, we had some indications that it would be favorable for a monsoon high to set up. That's what we see happening now. The official forecast from the Climate Prediction Center is that there are still equal chances of above-normal precipitation, below-normal or normal. That makes it kind of a tough call.