National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Frances Achorn
Frances Achorn

Location: College Park, Md
Ocean Prediction Center (OPC)
Job Title: Senior Developmental Meteorologist
Frances Achorn

I’m Fran Achorn, the Senior Developmental Meteorologist for the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC). OPC is one of the nine national centers that make up the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. We provide weather forecasts for marine interests in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.  This includes shipping, fishing, cruises, and recreational boaters.

I was raised in the small town of Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod. The major industries on the Lower Cape are fishing and tourism. As a result, nature and its study are really respected and vital to the local economy. With the Cape Cod National Seashore at our doorstep, there were ample opportunities in school for field trips ranging from whale watching to exploring marshes, beaches, or swamps. As a girl, I always enjoyed solving problems and was never discouraged from my interest in science. It wasn’t considered abnormal at home or in the community. There were plenty of local examples of female scientists and business owners. Both sides of my family is full of role models in  Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) careers. There are engineers, mathematicians, accountants, and biologists of both genders. For example, my grandmother was an engineering assistant during WWII.  She was only admitted to the program because they thought “Frances” was a man’s name. The class was divided into groups, but the men wouldn’t allow her to be a part of one. She ended up having to work extremely hard to do all the work herself.

I don’t remember wanting to pursue anything other than a Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) career. Narrowing down which discipline was the hard part. In high school, I participated in a summer program at the U.S. Naval Academy. During the program, I was able to experience several engineering fields. It was the oceanography and meteorology program that caught my interest. I ended up choosing meteorology and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences.  After a brief stop in the private sector as a marine meteorologist, I started working for the National Weather Service 15 years ago as a marine forecaster at OPC. I very quickly discovered that I had an aptitude for the technical side of the center. After several years of forecasting and improving my programing skills, I moved into a technical support meteorologist position for the Senior Duty Meteorologist team at NCEP Central Operations (NCO). At NCO, I was able to really learn how we create guidance, get data in front of the forecasters, and how we get their forecasts to the public. In 2008, my love of marine weather brought me back to OPC as a Developmental Meteorologist. Our small team is responsible for making sure our forecasters have the data and tools they need to make a forecast and to make sure their forecasts are processed and delivered correctly. We develop new products, migrate to new technologies, and maintain our website. Working at NWS has been very rewarding. We all take the mission to “protect lives and property” very seriously. Every one of us know how we directly make that possible. I have been able to earn the respect of my male peers by working hard for that mission.

Women, like any diverse workforce, bring different experiences and viewpoints. Those differences mean that they sometimes look at problems from different angles. When you are trying to solve a problem, having another viewpoint on your team is often the difference in how well your solution works. Women are, unfortunately, underrepresented in the NWS. Years ago you could attribute that to a lack of women going into meteorology, but the problem now seems to be retaining women here. Forecasters are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They work nights, weekends and holidays, often in a location far from their extended family. This poses challenges for women as they balance family, children and work. I was fortunate enough to find a day job when my oldest was born. My husband also works  shifts. Without daycare on nights and weekends, there was no way we could both work those odd hours. If I hadn’t found the day job, I might have been forced to leave as well. Even if you do not have children, shiftwork is difficult on your life outside work.

For any women or girls that are looking to a STEM career, I would say stick to your passion. Don’t let someone’s surprise that you enjoy something they see as “male” discourage you. That not only goes for science and math, but also computers, tools, and baseball.