National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Cindi Preller

Location: Anchorage, AK
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC)
Job Title: Duty Scientist, Geophysicist, Outreach

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Geology from the University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Graduate courses in Physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

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

  • Oceanographer and Outreach Lead, International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC)
  • Alaska Region Tsunami Program Manager and Tsunami Education & Outreach Coordinator,  Alaska Region Headquarters, Environmental and Scientific Services Division
  • Watchstander, NWS National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC)
  • Geologist, United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Alaska (Geology and Computer Science)
  • Geologist and Abandoned Mines Land Manager, National Park Service (NPS)

What do you do for the NWS?

  • II monitor the Earth's pulse 24x7 with a team of remarkable scientists.  We see every earthquake on the planet.  When one is big enough to generate a tsunami, we get the warning out within minutes.  When it comes to tsunamis, minutes matter.  Our warnings serve not only the United States and her territories, but also the International shorelines.
  • I also educate for tsunamis. As a subject matter expert, I network with federal, state, & local level emergency managers, schools, the media, etc. A great deal of time is spent traveling to meet state partners, educating communities on their local hazards, and preparing mitigation techniques for their specific needs. My most important focus is on schools and children.

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 most impactful event, so far, was the Tohoku, Japan tsunami in 2011. It was surreal inside the NTWC that evening. Most of us worked quietly and quickly, occasionally looking at CNN as the horror unfolded. I can’t begin to guess how many phone interviews I gave in the first 24 hours. The President checked in frequently! The wave crossed the Pacific, impacting the U.S.’s western harbors and beaches. The boats that went into deep water for safety began to run out of gas. They didn't have harbors to return to and a weather system was encroaching, while the tsunami was still underway. We watched the wave reflect off of our coast and return to Japan. It reflected three times!  Hawaii, in the middle, was hit on all sides. The tsunami continued for four days! Witnessing and working this event was definitely life changing.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • The science, the mission, and the people. The opportunity to make a difference in real, tangible, ways is mind-blowingly awesome. No other agency has the real-time daily mission to save lives and protect property. Events can be short-fused and we have to be ready to warn within minutes. Seeing the system work all the way to community evacuations has been the most rewarding aspect. We spend so much time and energy preparing that when action is required, and it works, is pretty awesome, and humbling.

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

  • The agency should really be called the National Hazard Service as it serves much more than weather. The people working for the NWS are the very best on the planet.  
  • Volunteer, intern, and check out several offices and positions.

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

  • Try on several different kinds of science.  Take the toughest classes early to get them out of the way.  If you excel at them, take more.
  • Meet Emergency Managers and see what and how they do their excellent work.
  • Take advantage of every 'Hands On' opportunity.  
  • Ask lots of questions.