Since graduating from Delta High School in 1988, Mark Rogers has often found himself in the eye of the storm — literally.
As a scientific systems analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Mark has not only flown into hurricanes, he's been involved in a diverse number of research projects around the world.
NOAA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce charged with tracking climate trends and collecting data on developing storms. NOAA is also the lead agency in managing and preserving large mammals, fish and other resources in the ocean and along the nation's coasts.
Mark works within the branch of NOAA that gathers data on meteorological systems. He's based in Tampa, Fla., the ideal location for tracking hurricanes developing in the Caribbean Ocean. NOAA uses two research aircraft for that purpose — a P-3 Orion and a Gulfstream G4. Mark is positioned in the back of the aircraft where he drops instruments called dropsondes into the storm. The dropsondes collect wind speeds, measure humidity and determine the exact center of the hurricane. Other agencies engaged in research often request additional scientific data. All of the information is relayed back to the crew in the plane and, coupled with readings from onboard sensors, helps NOAA model the hurricane and determine when and where evacuations should take place.
Folks watching The Weather Channel at home are seeing models that are based on the information gathered by Mark and the flight crew who fly directly into the eye of the storm.
Mark has used the same instruments to sample air quality over cities across the United States to quantify pollution and ozone levels. Satellites measure some of these same properties, and NOAA will fly into a windy or rain-filled environment to validate the information being generated by those satellites.
Some of his early research involved tracking winter storms from their infancy in Hawaii and Japan, studying their development as they hit the West Coast of the United States and continued eastward.
Most recently NOAA has been experimenting with the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to monitor the global environment. There is a key information gap between the instruments deployed by Mark and that provided by satellites — it's believed drones can bridge that gap.
Operated by remote pilots and ranging in wingspan from less than six feet to more than 115 feet, unmanned aircraft can collect data from dangerous or remote areas, such as the poles, oceans, wildlands, volcanic islands and wildfires. Better data and observations improve understanding and forecasts, saving lives, property, and resources, according to NOAA.
A mission in the Arctic Ocean involved the use of a Puma, an unmanned aircraft developed specifically for the U.S. Army. The mission's goal was to determine how new technology could be applied to detecting and mitigating damage in the event of an oil spill in the sea ice. The drone was just one type of technology tested during the exercise, which involved the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center and other federal agencies. The exercise involved sailing the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy several hundred miles north of Barrow, in the boundary between the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, to deploy air, surface and underwater assets in a variety of conditions.
NOAA's computerized mapping and data management equipment was also tested.
After Christmas, Mark is headed to Guam to conduct research with the Global Hawk, a large unmanned aircraft, in conjunction with NASA. While drones were developed to support military operations, when modified with weather sensors, they have the potential for becoming a valuable tool for monitoring the development of tropical storms.
Mark's extensive knowledge of scientific systems and data collection is the result of specialized training that began in the U.S. Navy.
As a kid growing up in Delta, he was more interested in shooting hoops and hanging out with his buddies than he was in science. College held no interest, so he opted for the military. Although it sounds cliché, Mark says he'd had enough of small town life and was anxious to see the world. He was trained as an in-flight technician on the P-3 Orion, a long-range aircraft whose primary mission was to chase down Russian submarines. The planes also patrolled the Caribbean, looking for small boats and airplanes transporting drugs to the U.S. from Panama and Puerto Rico.
After serving in the Navy for nearly eight years, he joined NOAA. He now lives in Tampa, Fla., with his wife Lisa and two children.
He is nostalgic about the small-town life that he once wanted to escape, and says he misses the mountains of Colorado, but he wouldn't trade the temperate Florida climate for the cold winter temperatures of western Colorado.
His parents are Lowell and Vivian Rogers, who are understandably proud of their son. They live in Delta but visit Florida frequently.
One of the most dramatic memories of Mark's 17-year NOAA career is a flight he was on the day after 9/11. He and his crew had landed in Providence, R.I., after flying a hurricane. Although all commercial and private aircraft were grounded, NOAA was granted permission to continue tracking hurricane activity. "We took off and were cleared for a direct flight, because, with the exception of the military, we were basically the only people in the sky.
"Ground control would say, 'Who are you? What are you doing?' It felt like somebody had their finger on the trigger the whole time."
Mark expects the transition from that type of heavy aircraft to continue, as NOAA and other agencies tap into the potential of unmanned aircraft. It's said unmanned aircraft systems will revolutionize NOAA observational strategies much as radar and satellite systems have done.
So the next time you turn on the TV and see a hurricane forming off the coast of Florida, or read a news story headlined, "Global November average temperature highest on record," you'll know that Mark and the other analysts at NOAA are providing the data that keeps us all informed and on alert for potentially dangerous weather developments.blog comments powered by Disqus