Meteorologist’s job protects his own family and others

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 20, 2009

Chelsea resident Jim Stefkovich knows his job protects what people hold the most dear –– their families.

“Protecting lives and property is our mission,” said Stefkovich, who is the meteorologist-in–charge at the National Weather Service in Calera..

Calera is one of more than100 sites across the U.S. where upper–air balloons are sent up, all at the same time, twice a day, Stefkovich said. A small box attached to the bottom of the balloon collects weather information and sends it to a super computer in Washington D.C.

The super computer uses the collected data to make computer models to send back to local weather services, where the models are used to follow weather patterns and predict the weather for local areas.

The Calera office is responsible for 39 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

“But we co-ordinate reports with other services,” said Stefkovich. “There are 122 identical weather offices in the United States, and if we were to go down, Huntsville can take over for us, or if the Atlanta service goes down, we can take over for them.”

During severe weather, they issue warnings by clicking a mouse using an interactive map, and this creates a highly detailed, worded warning. They then click the enter button, and the warning goes out to the world.

The 26-member crew at the Calera site takes its own advice about severe weather. Their place of safety is their break room equipped with 8-inch concrete walls and a thick steel door.

“Everyone should have a weather radio to warn them of approaching storms,” said Stefkovich, who assisted in the recent free weather radio distribution at Chelsea City Hall.

Stefkovich started his career in the National Weather Service in 1982. Originally from New Jersey, he worked in several states before coming to Alabama. The National Weather Service had moved from Birmingham to the Shelby County Airport in 1993, he said. He moved to Chelsea and began work in Shelby County in 2005.

Stefkovich said he loves the area and hopes to stay here from now on.