The National Weather Service (NWS) offers volunteer opportunities to help students explore careers and gain valuable experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many offices were able to transition to virtual opportunities. This has not only allowed offices to work with more students than they could in the past, but also enabled them to develop and share best practices across the network of weather forecast offices around the country.
Student training has been particularly successful at the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Jackson, Mississippi. Through a combination of research opportunities, internships that give students a window into what it’s like to work as an operational forecaster, and connection with Jackson State University, a local minority serving university, WFO Jackson has worked to build the next generation of the NWS workforce.
Students have a variety of opportunities when volunteering at a forecast office. Before the pandemic, students could come into the office and conduct research projects under the mentorship of NWS meteorologists. They were also able to volunteer alongside meteorologists during their shifts, helping to release weather balloons and participating in outreach events like spotter training, which equips people with information to observe and report dangerous weather situations to alert the public.
WFO Jackson has worked with Jackson State University’s Meteorology Program on and off since it began over 45 years ago. NWS employees have taught classes and mentored students. WFO Jackson has provided opportunities for student volunteers from JSU to shadow staff for a semester and participate in decision-making activities. They have visited local partners, such as the state emergency management office, and participated in Storm Ready ceremonies. Students’ research projects have also provided valuable insights for NWS staff. In celebration of the 45th anniversary of the founding of the JSU Meteorology Program, members of NOAA and the NWS partnered with JSU to host a virtual conference on October 28-30. More than 1,000 middle school through graduate students attended the multi-day conference.
Building off of the success of the volunteer program, WFO Jackson adapted the program to a more accessible virtual platform where 13 student volunteers from around the country were able to continue working with NWS. Through this shift, WFO Jackson was able to reach students from several states and universities.
To date, WFO Jackson has hosted over 40 student volunteers, 10 of which have gone on to find jobs at the NWS. The addition of the virtual internship has improved accessibility to the volunteer program as a whole. Moving forward, WFO Jackson and other regional offices will continue to support both the virtual volunteer program and in-person volunteering when new normal operations return. Students can now browse all student volunteer opportunities offered across local weather forecast offices on a new story map offsite link.