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Park Rapids graduate is director of NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center

Editor’s note: The Park Rapids Enterprise launched a new series of articles called “Where are they now?” to highlight the achievements of area high school graduates. While Park Rapids, Nevis, Menahga and Laporte may be small, northern Minnesota towns, they produce large talent. If you know of an alum from the area who has landed a unique or exceptional job, earned a prestigious award or performed an extraordinary task, contact editor Shannon Geisen at sgeisen@parkrapidsenterprise.com.

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David Novak
Contributed/ David Novak
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David Novak, a 1996 Park Rapids High School graduate, is director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Prediction Center.

Based in College Park, Maryland, it’s a position he’s held since 2014.

“I’m a weather guy,” Novak said. “I’ve always loved weather from a young age.”

Minnesota weather “sparks the fascination.” “From blizzards to tornadoes, you have it all,” he said, adding, “Gosh, I would think my classmates at high school would know that as well. I think they were well aware I had a fascination with weather. I’m not sure if my school closure predictions came true, but I tried. I tried.”

Novak improved his weather-forecasting abilities as an undergraduate at St. Cloud State University. “They have a small meteorology program,” he said.

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In 1999, he spent a summer with NOAA’s National Weather Service as a fire weather technician in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Preparing smoke jumpers for what kind of weather they’re going to see,” Novak explained. “It was a tremendous experience. It’s just incredibly beautiful in terms of landscape and the people.”

He then worked as a meteorological intern in Duluth.

“A sense of adventure” inspired Novak to head east. In 2002, he joined the scientific services division at the National Weather Service’s eastern region headquarters in Bohemia, New York.

Novak explained he was “responsible for integrating new science and technology into forecast operations” as well as facilitating training for meteorologists in the region.

He earned his Master’s of Science degree in atmospheric science from State University of New York (SUNY) Albany that same year.

Novak pursued a doctorate at SUNY Stony Brook, completing that in 2009.

“I was interested in research and how that connected to operations,” he said of his higher education pursuits.

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Rising through the ranks

Novak said he rose up the ranks of NOAA quickly.

In 2009, he became science and operations officer for the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

From 2012-14, Novak served as chief of Weather Prediction Center’s development and training branch, supporting the day-to-day operations and managing complex IT systems and service improvements.

Novak said he loves his director position, which he’s held for eight years.

“There’s never a boring day,” he said. “The center has huge responsibilities. We focus on major rain storms, winter storms and extreme temperature events. There’s always active weather.”

Ultimately, he said, it’s a desire to help people. “How do you make better predictions to help society?” The stakes are high, Novak pointed out, whether it’s protecting lives, property or the economy.

“Weather has such a tremendous impact. I think that’s what’s motivating to the people I lead, including myself,” he said.

Novak’s role is to integrate promising research into daily operations.

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“We’re always trying to do better and get better, in terms of having accurate predictions and warning the public.”

About 50 federal employees and 20 contractors work at the Weather Prediction Center.

They make national weather predictions up to seven days in advance – from Alaska to Puerto Rico – in collaboration with local forecast offices, like the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

“It’s really a neat example of government working together, from national to regional to local.”

Research and verification is another huge component of the center’s work.

“Say what you will about meteorologists, we do verify our events and hold ourselves accountable to how we did. I think that is a unique aspect, and helps us improve,” Novak said.

The quality of weather forecasting “has dramatically improved” over the decades, he argued.

Improvements in technology are the main reason. Today, forecasters have more sophisticated computer modeling of the atmosphere, with higher resolution.

“Better approximation of what’s going on in a thunderstorm, for example,” Novak said. “At the same time, the observations are really important. The satellites we use are just incredible these days. They’re up at 22,000 miles above us.”

Predications aren’t computed once, Novak added, rather it might be 30 times with tweaks in a few observations here and there.

“It’s a science. It’s serious business. We’re using the laws of physics to predict the atmosphere. There’s a lot that goes into it to make the very best forecast,” he said. “The atmosphere is inherently chaotic, so a prediction will never be perfect.”

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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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