National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Katherine Rowden

Location: Salt Lake City, UT
 Western Region Headquarters
Job Title: Western Region Hydrology Program Manager

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 work is incredibly varied! I get to work with people across the entire NWS on policy and science that affects how we deliver water resources information to the public and partners. I work closely with the Weather Forecast Offices and River FOrecast Centers to make sure they have the tools and science they need and help find solutions for challenges they may be facing. I spend a lot of time focusing on emerging science and policy for post-fire flash floods and debris flows, working closely with scientists and decision makers.

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

  • The western US has experienced many devastating wildfires recently. I have worked on a number of teams that identify areas most at risk of flash floods and debris flows after fires. In 2020 I co-led a team for FEMA and the state of Oregon with professionals and scientists 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?

  • I started my career in NWS as the Service Hydrologist at the Spokane WA Weather Forecast Office. 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.