noaa and the flood

It has been a long time since I had a Tuesday afternoon off. I’m in the middle of a 10-day work streak.

When I got off work, I crashed for a couple hours. Bleary-eyed, I found the Chaser editing away.

“Where should we go get coffee?” he asked, and off we went.

As we were sipping our cold brew from Fluid (another checkmark off the Denver list), we realized that we could make it in time for the tour of NOAA, and zipped up to Boulder.

Now, Terrence has been raving about NOAA since before we started dating. As a storm chaser, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is more than a little important to his passion. But, it being a government facility and all, to get a tour of this building, you had to get yourself on a list with 18 other people and be through security by 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon.


Obviously, this is more than a little tricky when for the last nine months I’ve been working a traditional job.

As we drove, Terrence managed to get us registered online and even had a confirmation email. When we arrived at the security station, though, we weren’t on The List. Fortunately, since neither of us had a New York or Minnesota driver’s license, we were able to pass through the metal detectors and have my car searched anyway.

So, who went through the TSA today?

When I was in middle school, I loved science and the weather and the skies. I’d won a trip to a young women’s STEM conference at a local university because of my entry on why I wanted to be an astronomer. I was always curious about how lightning formed and the greenhouse effect.

Somewhere along the road, I lost that curiosity. Actually, even those memories floated to the surface today after being hidden for years.

Today brought back a spark of that.

Today, I watched the Space Weather Prediction Center with all of the loops of the sun as they studied solar flares and coronal mass ejections. I saw images that the Chaser had shown me before on various webpages all laid out on a large screen, the scientists pacing around the dark room as they must 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Today, I watched the Storm Prediction Center and saw Terrence practically melt as they pointed out the severe weather desk. I saw the meterologists forecasting and watching models and preparing data. I saw the place where the magic happens: where storm chasers stalk their information to know where they should position themselves to catch a tornado.

Today, I could have easily spent another two hours in the room with the Science on a Sphere, studying the currents and tidal waves and earthquakes and clouds forming hurricanes and flight patterns. Staring at that blue marble, I felt excitement and curiosity and a yearning to know more again.

noaa flight patterns
Flight pattern simulation on a sphere made of movie screens with four projectors almost seamlessly creation a 3D image of our 3D world
Data from the 2011 earthquake in Japan
Data from the 2011 earthquake in Japan

I’ve been interested in science through the world of coffee – pondering going back to school to study chemistry or plant biology. But this… this was magic. The wonder and amazement and desire to learn more that I haven’t felt in years.

I didn’t know that a tour could do that.

But, thanks, NOAA. Thanks for making me look twice at my reality again. Also, you have a really cool backyard.


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