National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Pedro J. Restrepo

Location: Chanhassen, MN
North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC)
Job Title: Hydrologist-in-Charge (HIC) (Retired in April 2016)

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from The National University of Colombia (Medellin, Colombia)
  • Master’s Degree in Hydrology and Water Resources from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Doctorate in Hydrology and Water Resources from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

  • I always wanted a career with practical, tangible results. I worked for several consulting companies in real-life engineering applications after graduating from MIT. Before joining the NWS, I worked for 10 years as an independent consultant, doing work primarily in Latin America in hydrology and water resources.
  • I joined the NWS as the Senior Scientist in Hydrology in 2003 and moved to my current position in 2012.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • The NCRFC is responsible for the river forecasts at over 400 locations in nine states, covering the Upper Mississippi River Basin, with the exception of the Ohio and Missouri River Basins, the US tributaries to Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, and the U.S. tributaries to Hudson Bay.
  • I manage the office with a staff of hydrologists, meteorologists, an information technology specialist, and an administrative support assistant. I make sure that all regulations are followed to the letter, including managing budgets, personnel, and property.

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

  • Definitely the spring of 2013! We were expecting record flooding on the Red River of the North because of the amount of snow, but it did not materialize. We are working on three NASA grants and a Cooperative Research Agreement with a private company to face the interesting challenge of finding the reasons why flooding didn’t happen. The results of those projects will help us improve the understanding and modeling of the Red River and many other rivers across the US with similar soil characteristics.

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

  • The NWS is the world’s leading organization in hydrologic forecasting. When the Senior Scientist position was announced, it was a golden opportunity for me to be able to influence the direction of research and development in hydrologic forecasting models and procedures that would positively impact not only the NWS, but also the entire world. Afterwards, I moved to the North Central River Forecast Center to gain management experience, and to live closer to our daughter and her family.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • Unquestionably, the quality and dedication of the workforce. Working at a River Forecast Center also gives you a first-hand view of the staff’s outstanding, creative response to difficult forecasting situations in which information may be partially unavailable, yet the forecast still needs to be produced. A definite plus is the ability of RFC forecasters to enhance their own professional development and careers by being involved in research and development projects like those mentioned.

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

  • A person with a background that includes the topics I described above will have an excellent chance of getting a hydrologist position at the NWS. If he or she is interested in research, a PhD degree will make them much more valuable in the eyes of the selecting official. If the undergraduate curriculum doesn't cover the topics, a good graduate course, which includes the topics, will do.
  • Experience with Hydraulic modeling is always a highly desired skill from the RFCs point of view.

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

  • As a minimum, earn Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in a field with emphasis in Hydrology and Water Resources, such as Civil, Agricultural or Forestry Engineering, or in an undergraduate Hydrology program.
  • Besides standard math and science classes, include courses on dynamic, physical, statistical, stochastic and groundwater hydrology, fluid mechanics and river hydraulics, probability and statistics, water resources simulation and optimization, computer programming, GIS and technical writing.