National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Alaina MacFarlane

Location: State College, PA
Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center (MARFC)
Job Title: Senior Hydrologist

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Meteorology from Penn State University
  • Master’s Degree in Meteorology from Penn State University

Describe the career path that led you to your current job with the National Weather Service.

  • I met an employee at MARFC as part of a class assignment during my sophomore year and she told me about the student volunteer program. The fall semester of my junior year, I was a student volunteer at MARFC then I worked as a contractor the summer between my junior and senior year. These experiences solidified my interest in hydrology and provided valuable experience to set me apart when applying for my current position.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • Our top priority at MARFC is river forecasting. When our daily forecast operations are complete, we have the opportunity to work on research projects. I've developed unit hydrographs, crest stage relationships, flash flood guidance, transitioned our forecast operations from a legacy computer system to a new system, developed meteorological and hydrological ensemble modeling systems, installed new software builds and added new features, maintained our operational system, and created graphics for our website and specific users.

What was the most interesting, exciting, or impactful weather/water event you experienced while working for the NWS and why does it stand out?

  • In 2011, the Mid-Atlantic was slammed by back-to-back hurricanes Irene and Lee and both storms caused record flooding. This was the first widespread flood event I worked as a hydrologic forecaster. In addition to the normal forecasting duties, we had several briefings per shift for the Weather Forecast Offices (WFO)s, emergency managers and the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey

What made you decide to pursue a career with the NWS?

  • The experience I had as a student volunteer and later as a contractor solidified my interest in hydrology and the NWS.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • Any federal job gives you the opportunity to make an impact. At MARFC, I am responsible for issuing river forecasts that are used year-round for different purposes. Recreational users may be interested in whether a river has enough water for their canoe trip while someone who lives along the river may be interested in whether they need to prepare for potential flooding. Each forecast, regardless of the current or expected hydrologic conditions, impacts the public.

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career with the NWS?

  • Take advantage of the opportunity to be a student volunteer or apply for the Pathways program. Hands-on experience at any NWS office will help to get you in the door when you apply for your first NWS job.

What training or coursework would you recommend to someone interested in following your career path?

  • A degree in meteorology will help you to understand the weather conditions that impact the river forecasts; however degrees in engineering, environmental science or Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can also be helpful. A course or two in computer programming is also helpful.