Puerto Rico’s weather forecasters fight worry and fatigue to stay focused

National/World News

Roofs ripped off houses in San Juan, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria slammed into the city on September 20, 2017.

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Stuck in their offices, lacking sleep, food and water and unable to check on their families and friends, the staff at the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, remains focused on saving lives.

That remained clear Thursday even as a chat room conversation between the staffers and their counterparts in Miami switched from the usual discussion of weather conditions to how the forecasters themselves were faring in the hurricane-battered island.

“We are not 100% fine,” wrote meteorologist Ian Colon-Pagan. “We are bunkering in the office, no communications, no news about our family and friends, we still have some food.

“We are managing the stress and lack of sleep,” he continued, “but we don’t know until how long.”

The chat room is one of several that National Weather Service meteorologists use to share information quickly with one another, emergency management officials and media during big weather events like Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The unusually frank exchanges reveal how those in the San Juan office were riding out monster storm Maria — while still providing real-time updates to the public.

“Again, of course there is damage to some things, including comms, cell towers down etc.,” wrote another staffer, Jose Alamo. “But I feel confident that we saves a lot of lives this time!”

When Hurricane Maria tore through the US commonwealth on Wednesday, reducing homes to rubble and taking out its power grid, it also took down Puerto Rico’s two weather radars. The National Weather Service in Miami took over some of the responsibilities.

Larry Kelley, a forecaster for the Miami National Weather Service office, said, “We are working together to help serve the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.”

But the tough conditions haven’t prevented meteorologists on the island from keeping Puerto Ricans up-to-date with the latest conditions as best they can.

“It’s rough out there, the roads are blocked with either water, trees, or electrical wires and poles,” Alamo wrote, “but we are alive and safe, which is ultimately what matters.”

The messages provide a glimpse into the challenging circumstances that face the stricken island’s dedicated meteorologists. Circumstances about which few members the public would know. The forecaster’s colleagues have certainly noticed.

Brian Seeley, a former San Juan forecaster, wrote, “Coming right on the heels of Irma, there was always the chance that folks wouldn’t listen as closely or be complacent with Maria and you all kept them alert and well prepared!!”

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