Career of the Month

By Vangelova, Luba | The Science Teacher, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Career of the Month


Vangelova, Luba, The Science Teacher


Work overview.

As the first-ever director of the National Water Center, I am responsible for water predictions across the entire country, as well as for water research done by the National Weather Service. Before that, as the chief of NOAA's hydrology lab, I managed many different water-related research projects aimed at improving water forecasting through computer modeling. We dealt with soil moisture, stream flow, rainfall, and so on.

We are setting up a new modeling system, the National Water Model, which will go online in 2016. It will use a supercomputer to provide forecasts at the street or neighborhood scale and tie in with current technologies such as smartphones and geolocation.

Sometimes we forecast heavy precipitation over an extended time period, and as the event approaches, hydrology tries to determine if there will be flooding. Not all heavy rain results in a flood, so you need an end-to-end picture, starting with the weather and rain forecast and ending with hydrology and engineering.

We analyze floods for a few weeks, but droughts can last months or years, as is the case with California, which has a history of such events. To figure out when an area will likely get water again, we involve the climate-prediction end of NOAA, which looks at sea surface temperatures and global circulation patterns.

Career highlights.

For 10 years, I was the science lead on a project to develop a new satellite to measure snow. I learned a lot about how aeronautical and electrical engineers work. More recently, I led the design of the new National Water Center building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; it was fun to work with architects and engineers to sort out how the building could match our program needs.

Career path.

My godfather was a civil engineer, and I was intrigued by the idea of designing things. By high school, I was focused on being a scientist, but I didn't yet know what type. At the University of Colorado, I started out studying civil engineering, but then I became more interested in the water-resource aspect, and I saw that there was a career path in studying water. I switched my major to geography and found my niche in water resources and hydrologic science.

I got my master's degree and PhD in the same subject and then did postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Arizona. I did research on snow, especially modeling and observing mountain snowpack.

I then joined the National Weather Service's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen, Minnesota. We used satellites and aircraft as well as ground observations to determine the extent of water content in snow. This information was fed to 13 regional river-forecast centers, so they could forecast snowmelt. …

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