National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Operating the old radar scope for the WSR-57 radar at the airport office (Early 1990s).
Making recordings for the old weather radio system at the airport office (Early 1990s).
Old computer systems at the Waterloo Weather Service Office just prior to the closure of the office in 1995.
The new office on Beaver Drive just after completion in 1993.
One of the original configurations of the office in the mid 1990s. Note the large blue computer terminals which have since been replaced by modern PCs.
The Deputy Meteorologist-in-Charge at work in the mid 1990s.
The original WSR-57 radar that used to scan the skies over Central Iowa.
The WSR-57 radar being decommissioned in 1994.
The radome for the new WSR-88D radar under construction in 1994.
The radome for the new WSR-88D radar nears completion.
The completed radome for the WSR-88D radar.
The radome being hoisted to the top of the tower.
The base for the tower of the WSR-88D radar
Construction continues on the radar tower.
The top of the radar tower being lifted into place.

Office History

Image of the NWS Des Moines office

Official weather observations in Des Moines began on August 1st, 1878, when the Weather Bureau was part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The first weather office opened in the northwest room of a two story building known as the George D. McCaine Block, which was located on the northeast corner of Sixth and Walnut streets. The Iowa State Director of Weather and Chief Meteorologist at the time was Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs. On January 1st, 1887 the office moved to the four-story Clapp Block building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Walnut streets, and on April 1st, 1889 moved again to the fourth floor of the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office on the northeast corner of Fifth and Court streets. When a new U.S. Courthouse was completed on the southeast corner of East First and Walnut streets in 1929, the Weather Bureau moved into rooms 400-404 on October 1st of that year.

On October 16th, 1950 the office moved to the second floor of the Des Moines Airport Terminals near the corner of Army Post Road and Fleur Drive, where it would remain for more than 40 years. In 1970 the U.S. Department of Commerce was reorganized, and the Weather Bureau officially became the National Weather Service (NWS) on October 3rd, moving under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). On September 1st, 1993 the office moved to its current location at 9607 Northwest Beaver Drive in Johnston, on the northwestern edge of the Des Moines metro area.

The last 20 years have seen a plethora of technological upgrades that have greatly benefited the NWS. In 1994, the NWS in Des Moines received a WSR-88D Doppler Radar, which enables forecasters to better interrogate thunderstorms and determine their severity. The AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System) computer system became operational in the late 1990s and received a major upgrade to AWIPS II in late 2012, allowing for the viewing of a wide range of weather data, ranging from satellite imagery to computer models, in a single interface. Along with AWIPS came GFE (the Graphical Forecast Editor), a computer program designed for the production of gridded (graphical) forecasts. The installation of new surface observation sites and river gauges across state, many of which are owned by state, private, or other federal agencies, helps forecasters identify smaller scale weather phenomena that might be missed otherwise. The last two decades have also witnessed major advances to computer model forecasts. All of these improvements have enabled the NWS to produce higher quality forecasts and alert those in the path of dangerous weather with greater lead time.

The History of Weather Observations in Des Moines (PDF, 5.4mb)


Photos from the Des Moines NWS Archives
Click image to view a larger version and caption

 

Radarscope Weather Radio Waterloo Office
New Office Old Office Setup Forecaster
WSR-57 WSR-57 WSR 88D
WSR 88D WSR 88D WSR 88D
WSR 88D WSR 88D WSR 88D

Mission

The NWS Office (between radar and lake) and WSR-88D radar in Johnston with Saylorville Lake in the background.

The NWS Warning and Forecast Office (WFO) Des Moines serves the central half of Iowa, providing warnings, watches, and forecasts for the protection of life and property per our Mission Statement.

Image depicting area of responsibility of NWS Des Moines.

NWS Des Moines area of responsibility (County Warning Area)

Our office collects weather observations and issues public forecasts, watches, warnings, advisories, and other weather-related products for 51 counties in central Iowa. We also issue terminal aerodrome forecasts for five local airports, fire weather forecasts for government and commercial interests, and have a full-service hydrology program. We have 24 staff members, including ten full-time forecasters and four data acquisition personnel. Our equipment includes a WSR-88D Doppler radar, 14 NOAA Weather Radio transmitters, and dozens of river gauges and automated surface observation sites. We also maintain an active public outreach program, including cooperative weather observers, trained storm spotters, and CoCoRAHS observers, as well as interacting with the general public at local events. Our office maintains close involvement with local scientific organizations (such as the National Weather Association and various groups affiliated with Iowa State University), media outlets, and law enforcement and emergency management personnel (including the state emergency operations center).


Office Staff

 Management and Support Staff

  • Jeff Johnson - Meteorologist-in-Charge
  • Kelsey Angle - Warning Coordination Meteorologist
  • Mike Fowle - Science and Operations Officer
  • Jeff Zogg - Senior Service Hydrologist
  • Shane Searcy - Information Technology Officer
  • Gail Boeff - Administrative Support Assistant
  • Darren Gregory - Electronics System Analyst
  • Chris Southerlin - Electronics Technician
  • Kevin Carlson - Electronics Technician
  • Brad Fillbach - Observation Program Leader

 Meteorologists

  • Mindy Beerends - Senior Forecaster
  • Craig Cogil - Senior Forecaster
  • Rod Donavon - Senior Forecaster
  • Brad Small - Senior Forecaster
  • Roger Vachalek - Senior Forecaster
  • Frank Boksa - General Forecaster
  • Jim Lee - General Forecaster
  • Ken Podrazik - General Forecaster
  • Andrew Ansorge - General Forecaster
  • Kurt Kotenberg - General Forecaster

 Hydro-Meteorological Techs (HMT) & Meteorologist Interns

  • Allan Curtis - Meteorologist Intern
  • Cory Martin - Meteorologist Intern
  • Vacant - Meteorologist Intern
  • Vacant - Meteorologist Intern
NWS Office

Newsletters

Below are newsletters put together by the staff of the NWS Des Moines office, which are filled with a wide variety of interesting weather information. Publications after Fall 2014 can be found on our office blog!

Summer/Fall 2014 Spring 2014 Fall 2013 Summer 2013
Spring 2013 Fall 2012 Summer 2012 Spring 2012
Winter 2011 Summer 2011 Spring 2011 Fall/Winter 2010
Summer 2010 Spring 2010 Winter 2009 Summer 2009
Spring 2009 Fall 2008 Summer 2008 Spring 2008
Fall 2007 Summer 2007 Spring 2007  
The Iowa State Fair.
A hiking trail in western Iowa.

The Des Moines Area

The Des Moines metropolitan area encompasses portions of five counties in central Iowa – Polk, Warren, Guthrie, Madison, and Dallas. The majority of the city and population are located within Polk County.

Population:

As of the 2010 census there were 569,633 people living within the five counties listed above, with 430,640 of those living in Polk County and 203,433 within the city limits of Des Moines. In 2014 the five-county population was estimated to have grown to more than 610,000, and is projected to exceed 770,000 by 2025. The population includes several notable immigrant communities including those of recent southeast Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, African and east European descent.

Photo of Des Moines river and downtown Des Moines.
Downtown Des Moines and the Des Moines River

Housing:

Housing is readily available in the form of single-family homes, condominiums, duplexes, rental apartments, etc. In September 2015 the median price range for an existing single-family residence in the Des Moines metro area was approximately $150K to $175K. Real estate values in central Iowa are much less volatile than in other parts of the country.

Property tax/sales tax/income tax info:

Property taxes in central Iowa are based on a valuation roll-back and owners are allowed a homestead exemption. Taxes for a $150,000 home in central Iowa range from around $2,500 to $3,500 per year depending on the jurisdiction.

Iowa has a state sales tax of 5%. In addition, several counties around the state are authorized to collect a local options tax, generally 1-2%. Polk County currently has a 1% local options tax, for a total sales tax of 6%.

Iowa income tax is on a graduated scale. Tax rates begin at 0.36% for any income over zero, and climb to 8.98% on all income amounts above approximately $60,000. Federal tax deductibility is allowed for Iowa taxes.

Education:

Iowa State University is located in Ames, approximately 30 miles north of Des Moines and Simpson College is located in Indianola, approximately 15 miles south of Des Moines. Drake University, Grand View University, and the Des Moines Area Community College are all located within the Des Moines metro area.

Iowa has a strong tradition of commitment to public education.  Public schools within the city of Des Moines have more than 32,000 students enrolled in 63 schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Transportation:

Interstates 80 and 35 pass through Des Moines, providing convenient vehicular access to the rest of the region and country. Interstate 235 also cuts through the city.

The public transit system consists entirely of buses, with regular in-city and suburban commuter routes.

Downtown Des Moines boasts a 3.5 mile long skywalk system which allows pedestrian travel throughout the downtown business district without exposure to the elements.

The Des Moines International Airport provides air travelers with non-stop service to destinations around the country as far away as Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and New York.

Economy:

Des Moines is a major regional and national center for the insurance, financial services, and publishing industries. Agriculture is also a mainstay of the Iowa economy.

In 2010 the median household income within the metro area was approximately $56K, more than 10% above the national average.

Recreation:

The Des Moines area offers countless parks and trails with opportunities for camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Saylorville Lake, located just north of the city (and less than a mile from the NWS office), is also a popular destination for water sports and birding.

State Fair

Local festivals are commonplace in the metro and surrounding smaller communities from spring through fall. The Iowa State Fair takes place each August in Des Moines and is the largest social gathering in the state, attracting about a million visitors per year. There is also a large Farmer’s Market in downtown Des Moines during the summer and fall months.

Des Moines features an art center, opera, symphony, ballet, science museum, zoo, botanical garden, the state Capitol, the state’s largest amusement park, and numerous other attractions including broadway shows, concerts, small live music venues, and comedy clubs.

There are several shopping districts, with the most popular being the East Village downtown, as well as malls throughout the metro. The largest shopping mall is the Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, which features over 150 stores, restaurants, and other businesses, as well as a 3.5 acre lake surrounded by walking and biking trails, live music in the summer, and a 20-screen digital movie theater.

Professional sports teams include arena football, AHL and USHL hockey, AAA baseball, NBADL basketball, and PDL soccer, as well as collegiate sporting events (including the nationally famous Drake Relays). The Iowa Speedway in Newton (an approximately 45 minute drive from Des Moines) features auto racing and NASCAR events.

Climate:

Located in the heart of North America, Des Moines has a climate which is continental in character. This results in a marked seasonal contrast in both temperature and precipitation. Because agriculture is the primary and traditional economic engine of the region, it is convenient to separate the year into seasons corresponding to the growing of crops. The winter season, when most plant life is dormant, is from mid-November to late March. The summer season, when corn and soybeans are grown, lasts from early May to early October. The spring growing season and the fall harvest season each run about 6 weeks.

Western Iowa

Annual precipitation can vary anywhere from a minimum of about 17 inches to a maximum of about 56 inches. The average annual snowfall is 36 inches. Annual variation of snowfall is also large, ranging from a minimum of about 8 inches to as much as 72 inches.

Winter is a season of cold dry air much of the time, interrupted by milder Pacific air brought in by the Chinook winds out of the northern Rockies. Winter storms of short duration are an occasional occurrence. At the beginning and end of the winter season precipitation may occur as rain, but during the heart of the season it mainly falls as snow. Drifting snow can be extensive and impede transportation at times, especially in rural areas. Freezing rain, though not rare, seldom accumulates to a thickness of one quarter of an inch or more. The average precipitation during winter is approximately 20 percent of the annual amount. Although occasional cold waves follow the storms, bitterly cold days in which the temperature fails to rise above zero occur on an average of only once every 2 to 3 years.

The average growing season (when temperatures remain above 32 degrees) normally spans 160 to 165 days between late April and mid-October. The growing season is characterized by prevailing southerly winds and precipitation falling primarily as showers and thunderstorms, occasionally producing damaging wind, erosive downpours or hail. Some 60 percent of the annual precipitation amount falls in the summer with the maximum rate normally in late May and June. Autumn is characteristically sunny with diminishing precipitation and generally decreasing temperature, conditions favorable for drying and harvesting crops.

Useful Web Links:

Web pages for the city of Des Moines and its surrounding suburbs:

Des Moines

Ankeny

Clive

Grimes

Johnston

Polk City

Pleasant Hill

Urbandale

West Des Moines

Staff giving tours at the NWS Open House in 2008.
Staff giving tours at the NWS Open House in 2008.
The NWS at the Iowa Air Show in Des Moines.
Presenting at the Central Iowa NWA Severe Weather Conference.
A forecaster explains the forecasting process to an area high school group.
A local Boy Scout troop takes a tour of the office.
Taking a routine snow depth measurement at the office.
Measuring the liquid water content of the snow pack.
Working on a forecast.
NWS personnel investigate tornado damage on a storm survey.
NWS employees partner up with the media and amateur radio operators to program weather radios at a local Hyvee store.
NWS employees partner up with the media and amateur radio operators to program weather radios at a local Hyvee store.
Severe weather operations at the office during a large tornado outbreak.
Severe weather operations at the office during a large tornado outbreak.
Severe weather operations at the office during a large tornado outbreak.
NWS staffing a booth at the Iowa State Fair.
NWS staffing a booth at the Iowa State Fair.
Certifying a county as Storm Ready.
NWS staff present on severe weather safety at the Science Cafe at the Iowa Science Center.
NWS staff present on severe weather safety at the Science Cafe at the Iowa Science Center.
Des Moines media personnel take part in a simulated severe weather event at the NWS office.

Photo Gallery

Below are photos of NWS personnel in action, both in the office and throughout the community. Click a photo for a larger version and caption.

Open House Open House Air Show
NWA Conference High School Tour Boy Scout Tour
Measuring Snow Snow Core Tornado Damage Survey
Tornado Damage Survey Weather Radio Programming Weather Radio Programming
Severe Weather Operations Severe Weather Operations Severe Weather Operations
State Fair State Fair Storm Ready
Science Cafe Science Cafe Media Workshop

Student Volunteer and Internship Information

There are many opportunities that exist at the National Weather Service for college students to gain valuable work experience, both as paid employees and as unpaid volunteers. In fact, many current NWS employees began their careers by having participated in such programs themselves while in school. These opportunities provide potential employees an early start to building a foundation within the field of meteorology and a step toward a successful NWS career. Many managers throughout the NWS look for recent graduates with actual NWS experience when hiring new employees. It is also a great way for recent graduates to receive positive recommendations to hiring managers by being able to list NWS personnel as references.


Position Descriptions

Student Volunteer (Unpaid)

The National Weather Service offers unpaid training opportunities for college students related to the participant’s academic field of study, usually meteorology or atmospheric science (hydrology may be an option, contact us for details). Students have an opportunity to explore their career options, learn about the National Weather Service, and to develop both professional and personal skills. A typical volunteership at the NWS in Des Moines follows a structured outline to give hands-on, real world experience by introducting the student to warning and forecast operations, hydrology and data acquisition, research meteorology, media production, and decision support services.

The student will "work” at the office one day per week for a period of 4 hours. The volunteership will last for one semester, with 2 positions available per semester. The final 2 to 3 weeks of the volunteership, the student may choose to work for 8 hours once per week to gain the experience of working a full shift if desired. Independent study credit may be earned through an agreement between the NWS and the student’s university. The application deadline for the spring semester is in late November/early December while application deadlines for the summer and fall semesters will be in April. Project work may extend volunteer time into a second semester if interested.

NOTE: Students will not be paid for their volunteer experience at the office.

Requirements:

The National Weather Service in Des Moines is looking for highly motivated self-starters who desire career experience to enhance their academic course of study.

  • Students must have completed "General Meteorology-MTEOR 301" at Iowa State University (or equivalent at other universities) prior to a volunteer start date. For example, a student taking MTEOR 301 in the spring semester may apply to be a volunteer in following summer semester or later.
  • Proper casual-business attire
  • Conduct ones-self in a professional and respectful manner
  • Complete specified goals of both the school and the NWS

Students interested in applying to be a volunteer should fill out this Application, and submit a resume and transcripts via email. Supporting documents or questions about the program should be emailed to melinda.beerends@noaa.gov.

Application Deadline

Spring 2018 Application Deadline: Friday, December 1st, 2017

Please submit application materials via email to melinda.beerends@noaa.gov.

 

Pathways Student Employment Program (Paid)

The most common form of paid employment opportunities for students in the NWS is through the newly developed Pathways Program. The Pathways program is designed for both undergraduates and graduate students. This program offers participants formal periods of work experience directly related to their academic field of study. Participants in this program may be eligible for permanent employment without competition after successfully completing their education and work requirements. Guidelines and the number of openings are determined on a regional and national scale, and are subject to budgetary limitations. For more information, please check the links below. 

There is no set schedule for the announcement of NWS Pathways openings at this time. Therefore check the USAJobs website frequently for any updates or openings in the Pathways Program within the NWS. They will be listed under the GS-1399 Series and usually graded a 03/04. Melinda Beerends, Student Volunteer Program Leader at the NWS in Des Moines, also broadcasts information widely when announcements come out, typically forwarding them to ISU students and faculty and the Central Iowa NWA Chapter mailing list.

Non-official Application Guidelines listed below (Note: Official guidelines can be found in each job accouncement.)

  • A resume listing your previous work experience, completed college coursework, status as a U.S. citizen, and any other relevant information such as computer and programming skills, significant class projects, volunteer activities, research experience, participation in student clubs, etc
  • A transcript from your current university (unofficial is acceptable)
  • Proof of Enrollment from your univeristy (ISU info here)
  • Proof of accomplishments/questionnaire answers must be included within your application/resume
  • Availability to work at the location in which you are applying

Additional information is available at the following links:


The NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship Program (Paid)

Undergraduate students may apply for NOAA's The Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship program. Once a year NOAA solicits applications for a scholarship program in honor of retired South Carolina Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, who promoted oceanic and atmospheric research throughout his career.

Scholarship students will be eligible for awards that include academic assistance (up to a maximum of $9,500) for full-time study during the 9-month academic year; a 10-week, full-time internship position ($700/week) during the summer at a NOAA or partner facility; and academic assistance (up to a maximum of $9,500) for full-time study during a second 9-month academic year. The internship between the first and second years of the award provides the Scholars with "hands-on"/practical educational training experience in NOAA-related science, research, technology, policy, management, and education activities. Awards include travel funds to attend and participate in a mandatory orientation and conferences where students present a paper or poster. In addition, the scholarship student may receive a housing subsidy for scholars who do not reside at home during the summer internship. The application period usually begins in September and closes by the end of January. Additional scholarship opportunities can be found here.

Applications for the Hollings Scholarship Program are available online, by e-mail at StudentScholarshipPrograms@noaa.gov, by telephone to (301) 628-2913, or by mail to:

NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program
NOAA/Office of Education
1315 East-West Highway, Room 10704
Silver Spring, MD 20910


Job Shadow Opportunities (Unpaid)

Job shadow opportunities exist on a limited basis for a period of 2 to 4 hours for students of all grade levels. If you are a student interested in a job shadow opportunity, please email melinda.beerends@noaa.gov for more information.


Permanent Employment with the NWS (Paid)

The Meteorologist positions at the NWS are graduated both in responsibility and pay. The entry level position is known as a Meteorologist Intern. At times, a new graduate may apply for the next level up which is the General Forecaster position, but most of these jobs are bid as "Status," which means you must already be within the agency to apply for the job. NWS jobs are on the General Schedule (GS) pay scale and range from GS-5 to GS-15 depending on the job. Intern jobs are the lowest grades on the scale with a new graduate usually obtaining a Met. Intern position at the GS-5 grade. If you have a Master's Degree in Meteorology, you may be able to get an Met. Intern job at a higher grade such as a GS-7. Meteorology jobs are listed under what is called a series number, which is 1340. Therefore if you are looking for NWS jobs on the USAjobs website you would want to search for 1340-GS5/7 NWS Meteorologist Intern job openings as a new graduate. If you have never visited their website, please visit the Tips page that includes a video for finding and applying for jobs in the Federal Government.

More Information on all NWS Careers.
Webinar: Applying to the NWS: Entry Stats and Application Resources

Office Tours

We offer office tours as an opportunity to showcase NWS services, provide education, and give the public an opportunity to visit their local NWS office. Do you have a group interested in an office tour? If so, please see the guidelines below:

Tour guidelines:

  1. Large group tours of 15 people or more need to be conducted Monday - Friday, 9am-5pm. Tour groups who are larger than 25 will need to separate into smaller groups.
  2. Small group tours of 5 to 15 will be allowed at other times, including evenings and Saturdays, depending on staff availability.

If you are interested in scheduling a tour, please call Gail Boeff at 515-270-2614.  Please provide Ms. Boeff the following information via e-mail at Gail.Boeff@noaa.gov the following information once your tour is scheduled:

  • Contact name/phone number/e-mail address
  • Group name and address
  • Number and age of those who plan to attend
  • Special needs or specific topics your group is interested in

Restrictions:

  1. Tours will not be granted from March 1 through April 15 due office training for severe weather and spotter training activities.
  2. Minimum tour age is ten years old.
  3. Tours may be cancelled with little or no notice due to severe weather, or other issues.
  4. Everyone on the tour will be required to sign in and show a government issued I.D. such as a driver’s license. Minors will be allowed to accompany an adult with an I.D.
  5. There are no fees for office tours.

Outreach Events

A limited number of in-person outreach and preparedness events are offered each year. Requests for outreach events often include: civic groups requesting a lunch speaker about severe weather safety, a school career day, a school severe weather talk, a booth at a safety fair, senior living centers, conferences, and many other groups.

Outreach requests are granted using the following guidelines:

  1. Attendance – Higher attended presentations (50 people or more)  will be given priority over events which are smaller.   Groups of less than 20 people will not be considered. In this case, we recommend an office tour as an alternative.
  2. Time and day – Sunday outreach requests will not be granted. Requests during business hours Monday - Friday will be granted at a higher frequency than evening or Saturday events.
  3. Resource availability – Outreach requests are granted as office, and agency resources permit.
  4. Schedule well in advance – Events should be requested at least two to four months in advance. Short term requests, within a month, usually are not granted.

If you are interested in scheduling an outreach event, please contact Kelsey Angle at 515-270-4501 or kelsey.angle@noaa.gov.

Spotter training and dispatcher training are considered mission critical and are scheduled through county emergency managers or other officials.

Restrictions and terms:

  1. Outreach events may be cancelled with little or no warning due to severe weather, or other issues.
  2. Only higher attended presentations will be considered between March 1st and April 15th due to the spotter training season. 
  3. Due to travel restrictions, only higher attended presentations (above 50 people) will be considered outside of central Iowa (Boone, Story, Marshall, Dallas, Polk, Jasper, Madison, Warren and Marion counties).
  4. There is no fee for outreach services.