National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Matt Solum

Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Western Region Headquarters (WRH)
Job Title: Regional Response and Preparedness Specialist

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of North Dakota

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

  • During the summer of 2004, I was accepted into the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) at the Billings, MT Weather Forecast Office (WFO) and transitioned to the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP). Upon graduating in May 2005, I became a Meteorologist Intern at the Billings WFO before becoming a General Forecaster in April 2007. In August 2011, I moved to Salt Lake City, UT and became a Decision Support Services (DSS) Program Manager at Western Region Headquarters (WRH). Since then my role as a DSS Program Manager has evolved into becoming a Regional Response and Preparedness Specialist.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • At WRH, I am a Regional Response and Preparedness Specialist in the Integrated Services Division. My regular duties primarily include being an IDSS Program Manager along with being the FEMA Region X liaison. I am also the Western Region lead for large pre-planned events and have been involved with planning efforts surrounding the Super Bowl, World Athletics Championships and the Special Olympics USA Games. On the preparedness side, I have been involved in FEMA X's Cascadia Subduction Zone and Fractured Grid exercises and a number of internal NWS exercises. I have also deployed as a Deployment-Ready Meteorologist to the Washington State Emergency Operations Center and the California State Operations Center in support of wildfire response.

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

  • On June 20, 2010, an EF-2 tornado struck MetraPark in Billings, MT, two miles from where I lived. My house received minor hail damage. I was at home during the event with a newborn and my youngest son, Paxton. Not only did that stand out, but every time we drove by that area, my oldest son, Rylan, was very concerned that a number of restaurants and other businesses were damaged. To this day, when we visit, he still recalls that event and the damage that occurred!

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

  • Like many others, I grew up having a fascination for weather, in particular thunderstorms. As time went on and I had to decide where I was going to go to college, I started looking into what schools offered degrees in meteorology and chose to go to the University of North Dakota (UND), which was the only school I toured. After going through a rewarding summer at WFO Billings in the STEP and SCEP programs between my junior and senior years at UND, I knew I wanted to continue my career in the National Weather Service.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • The people I work with both in Salt Lake City and across the country are what I like most about working for the NWS. There will always be frustrating times in any job, but the people I work with continue to inspire and motivate me and make the NWS a great agency to work for. I am still a long ways from retirement, but when I look back some day, the people in the NWS will always be something I looked forward to working with each and every day.

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

  • As time has gone on, it seems to be harder and harder to get into the NWS in an entry level position. My advice to those looking to get into the NWS is to try and have as diverse of a background as possible. Applicants need to find ways to differentiate themselves from other potential candidates on applications and in interviews in order to stick out amongst potentially hundreds of applications. Volunteering with the NWS while in school can also be very beneficial as well.

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

  • What was not emphasized all that much when I went through school were things like communication and the social science aspects of our careers. Many people do not realize having some background in these topic areas can be beneficial in the NWS. I would also recommend having a little bit of a technical background as it seems no matter what position you may be in or what project you may be working on, there always seems to be a technical related aspect to it.