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.  She gave me a tour of the office and told me about the student volunteer program.  I was a student volunteer at MARFC the next semester, and had a great experience. The following summer I was employed as a contractor at MARFC and worked on a project to improve flash flood guidance.  Both of 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  do development work. I've developed forecasting techniques for new river forecast points, transitioned our forecast operations to a new system, developed ensemble modeling systems, and created graphics for our website and specific partners. My latest projects include installing and evaluating a new RFC archiving system, evaluating a multi-model ensemble approach for river forecasting, working with student volunteers, giving lectures to Penn State meteorology and engineering students, and hosting meetings with partners.

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 tropical systems: Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The rainfall from both storms caused record flooding. This was the first widespread flood event in my career.  In addition to the normal forecasting duties, we had several briefings per shift for the Weather Forecast Offices (WFO)s, state 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 as a contractor solidified my interest in hydrology and the NWS.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • All federal jobs make an impact, but the NWS forecasts impact everyone.  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?

  • Reach out to your local office and schedule a visit or a tour.  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?

  • The MARFC staff has a very diverse academic background. There are meteorologists, hydrologists, environmental scientists, engineers, and geographers.  Computer programming and GIS courses are very useful too.