National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Kris Lander

Location: Fort Worth, TX
West Gulf River Forecast Center (WGRFC)
Job Title: Development and Operations Hydrologist (DOH)

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering from Kansas State University
  • Master’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.)
  • Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM)

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

  • My first job after college was as a Water Resources Engineer for a private-sector consulting firm, specializing in engineering planning studies. That experience helped me to develop technical skills in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), hydrologic science and hydraulic modeling.
  • After working in the private sector for three years, I then had the opportunity to enter the NWS as a journey hydrologic forecaster at the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center (MBRFC).

What do you do for the NWS?

  • I am responsible for forecaster training, science & technology infusion, and leading the operational forecast staff in forecast production. The position requires a technical background in hydrology and skills in project management and leadership.
  • When we are not forecasting flooding, it is my job to work with the WGRFC team to improve the forecasting techniques and to prepare for the next event.

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

  • Hurricane Harvey was an off the charts, catastrophic record flood. The area impacted by major to record flooding included nearly 9 million people, 36 counties over 23,000 square miles or which is approximately the area of CT, DE, RI, and NJ, combined. To top it off, this event shattered the U.S. storm total precipitation record, while Houston received a years worth of rainfall over a 5-day period.  Approximately 30 percent of Houston was underwater, accounting to news reports. NWS staff worked tirelessly to forecast the event and support the emergency management community. There was a real team effort by the NWS offices to predict the flooding and spread the message. This was by far the most well coordinated NWS response to flooding that I have seen in my career. 

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

  • I was interested in hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, and right out of college I thought engineering consulting was the only career option that fit my interests. I had no idea that NWS had River Forecast Centers that specialized in hydrologic modeling and forecasting.
  • When I saw a MBRFC journey hydrologic forecaster job advertised, I introduced myself to the Hydrologist-in-Charge (HIC). The HIC described the MBRFC’s mission and all the challenges of forecasting major river systems in the Midwest. I was intrigued by the mission, the challenges of hydrologic forecasting and by the opportunity to build new forecasting tools and techniques to help the public make well-informed decisions.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • I really enjoy working with a team of people who are passionate and committed to service. The people that work throughout the NWS are clearly committed to providing the best possible forecast service to the public.

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

  • Call email or otherwise approach your local Weather Forecast Office (WFO) or River Forecast Center (RFC) to ask about opportunities to contribute as a student volunteer. Volunteering will give you the opportunity to network, show off your skills and to find out if the NWS is a good fit for you. You can also use a volunteer opportunity to gain insight on the hiring process.

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

  • A technical background with some combination of science in both hydrology and meteorology is essential for a hydrologic forecaster position. GIS, hydraulic modeling, scripting and hydrometerology are all valued skills you can work on in college and through coursework.
  • Invest time in developing your leadership, presentation, interpersonal, and project management skills as much as possible. Step out of your comfort zone and volunteer for leadership positions in student organizations to begin to develop these skills.