Employee Spotlight: Dave Jorgensen

Dave Jorgensen
Dave Jorgensen is very comfortable doing research with the NOAA P-3 aircraft

Can you picture it?  Distant thunderstorm anvils are glowing orange in the sunset over the arid southwest.   It rarely rains in the deserts near Indio, California, but the Colorado River Basin has storms?   Why?  This is the question of a future meteorologist, and a young Dave Jorgensen’s attention was captured by the view from his back yard in the desert near Palm Springs.   He has been trying to figure out how storms work ever since.

Dave earned his B.S. and M.S. in meteorology at Texas A&M, and his Ph.D. at Colorado State University with a dissertation on the mesoscale and convective scale characteristics of mature hurricanes.  His graduate research secured his position at the National Hurricane Laboratory where he logged many hours on the NOAA P-3 research aircraft working on hurricane research including the possibility of seeding hurricanes to reduce their wind speeds.

“Visitors get sick, but scientists don’t,” notes Dave about flying on the P-3’s.   “It’s because the scientists are busy operating equipment and directing   the pilots where to go and are always concentrating on what to do.”  He speaks from experience, having flown around and through hurricanes, typhoons, winter cyclones, thunderstorms – you name it over the last 35 years.    Dave was part of the team that realized the P-3 could be used different kinds of research and helped develop the tail-mounted airborne Doppler radar – to map the 3-D structure of hurricane rainbands.  The process took seven years, but the data provided by the airborne radar was invaluable, particularly in debunking the hurricane seeding hypothesis which directly resulted in the abolishment of the National Hurricane Research Lab.

Dave was at the hurricane lab for 10 years, then moved to Boulder, Colo. with the Weather Research Program to expand his knowledge and study mesoscale convective systems (MCS’s) under a new research group directed by Bob Maddox. Dave’s expertise was in demand, and became involved in designing airborne field campaigns around the world to study all types of storms

-       TAMEX (Taiwan Area Mesoscale Experiment) took him to Taiwan and Okinawa (orographic storms)

-       TOGA/COARE (Tropical Oceans/Global Atmosphere/Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment) based in the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific, to study giant “warm-pool” based convective systems that are key to understanding the upward branch of the Earth’s Hadley circulation.

-       FASTEX (Fronts and Storm Tracks Experiment) probed frontal systems over the North Atlantic based out of Shannon, Ireland

-       MAP (Mesoscale Alpine Project) was in Innsbruck, Austria looking at orographic storms

-       T-PARC project (THORPEX Pacific Area Regional Campaign) to examing typhoon genesis from a base in Guam.

With international projects come interesting adventures.  Guadalcanal was the malaria capital of the world but Dave escaped the disease.  Project logistics can be challenging – hotels with tadpoles in the tap water or no running water at all, primitive living conditions, no television/radio or newspapers to connect with the rest of the world.

State-side Dave has flown with:

-       SWAMP (South West Area Monsoon Project), from Phoenix, AZ

-       BAMEX (Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortices Experiment), out of St. Louis, MO.

-       NSSL dryline projects in the early 1990s

-       MEaPRS (MCS Electrification and Polarimetric Radar Study) and

-       RAINEX (Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Experiment).

Surprisingly though, Dave’s first flight through a category “5” hurricane was Hurricane Rita in 2005 he experienced 180 mph sustained winds and dramatic eye structure first hand.

Dave has been with NSSL for over 20 years years, 12 of those affiliated with NCAR in Boulder. His current role at NSSL is Division Chief of the Warnings Research and Development Division.  His team works to capitalize on the current Doppler radar system through product and performance improvement, and “trying to get the last second of warning time out of the existing system”.  The next big jump is hydrometeorology, particularly in improving quantitative precipitation estimation using dual-pol – improving flash flooding warnings.

Another facet of his career is Dave’s involvement with AMS publications.   He was co-chief editor of “Monthly Weather Review” for ten years, and helped implement the current online system with the goal of “not using one piece of paper” to get work published.  He is now the Publications Commissioner, choosing editors for the nine AMS journals, and continues to fight for cost reductions particularly for color figure publication.

Dave admires forward thinking and open-mindedness – his favorite book is “The Defining Moment.”  “It’s the story of FDR’s first 100 days in office as President and how he built coalitions to affect amazing change,” says Dave.  “I’m inspired by how FDR got things done by putting aside his political thinking.  We develop things by trying something different, like Roosevelt did.  New ideas generally pay off – the area is wide open.”  Dave is passionate to “identify mission-driven folks early in their career and invest in their scientific talent  – those who want to provide a service to their country.  I want to see NSSL become a world-class research organization.”

In spite of his extensive travel, describes himself as a “homebody.” He and his wife prefer to work in the yard (they are still clearing broken tree limbs from last winter’s ice storm) and around their house (which they say is too big since their sons graduated college).   The Jorgensen’s are big supporters of the University of Oklahoma arts, and enjoy reading, the History Channel, and old movies.

Dave’s curiosity and love of field work has lured him back to Southern California the past five winters, though north of where he grew up.  He works with a Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radar (SMART-R) as part of the NWS/USGS Demonstration Flash Flood and Debris Flow Early Warning System Project to relay radar information about rainfall to the NWS/Oxnard forecast office in near real-time.  The data is used in USGS models of debris flows to improve the rainfall thresholds used by the NWS in flash flood warnings for debris flow.