National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Katherine Rowden

Location: Spokane, WA
Spokane Weather Forecast Office (WFO)
Job Title: Service Hydrologist

Educational Background:

  • Associates Degree from Spokane Falls Community College
  • Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering/focus in Environmental Engineering from Gonzaga University

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

  • Coming out of college with a Civil Engineering degree, I started my professional career in engineering, mostly in the world of water: storm water, drinking water, wastewater, rivers, you name it. The work I performed was varied – from reviewing legal water rights documents to investigating and modeling river behavior for new bridge designs. This work gave me great experience to bring to my current job and allows me to understand the unique language and needs of a wide variety of stakeholders.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • My typical duties include: keeping databases updated with the latest river gage and flood impact information; working with Emergency Managers to keep them informed of flood risk or drought status; working with different groups to keep them updated on hydrologic conditions, drought & flooding; working with the Northwest River Forecast Center’s forecast staff to make sure everyone is getting the forecast information they need; and working in the field to catalog flood impacts and assess flood risk.

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

  • Our area experienced many devastating wildfires over the last four years. Because of the flash flood risk that remains after a fire, I worked closely with many professionals from different backgrounds to assess risk, inform the public and to get rain gages installed to help warn of flash floods. The work relationships I developed, the feedback from the public, and knowing I was able to help in some way in these disasters has made this the most rewarding work I have ever had the privilege of doing.

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

  • When I first heard of the Service Hydrologist position at the NWS, I was intrigued. Because I don’t have a meteorology or forecasting background, I wasn’t intimately familiar with the agency at that time. As I learned about the agency’s key role in protecting life and property, and saw that the agency was filled with scientists dedicated to this mission, I realized it was exactly the kind of organization I wanted to be a part of.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • The best part of my job is getting to help people, and I can do that every day in different ways. From the smallest task of taking a few minutes to help someone find the info they need, up to an intensive post-wildfire flood risk assessment that requires 14 straight days of field work, modeling and report-writing – each time I can help others get the information they need makes for a good day at the office. The “Service” part of National Weather Service is the most rewarding part of the work.

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

  • If you’re interested in a career with the NWS you will want to develop a strong math and science background as early as possible. Also, call the closest NWS office and ask if you can visit with and job shadow one of the meteorologists, hydrologists, or electronic technicians. Research universities and colleges that have degrees in the field you’re interested in and look for ones that have ties to the NWS where college students get early exposure to the agency and an opportunity to make connections.

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

  • For those interested in water-related careers, I recommend pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree with a water resources or hydrology focus, such as Civil Engineering, Hydrology or Environmental Science. Develop a strong foundation in math and science. Also, pursue internship or summer work opportunities that get you out in the field so you can see what kinds of water-related information people need and how they use it – this will help make for a more well-rounded professional.