Interview with Angela Wood

Environmental Programme Manager

 Federal Government, Baltimore, Maryland, USA


Picture: Wolf Rock @ Cunningham Falls, Maryland, USA

1. Why did you decide to study meteorology in Ireland?

During my undergraduate studies I became very interested in Climatology and Meteorology; however there were no specific degrees in either area available through the university I was attending. When I received my B.Sc. in Environmental Health, with a minor in Geography, I immediately began working for the state of Maryland.  After about a year of working for the state I was offered a job in the Federal Government as an Environmental Manager. After a year working at the federal level I began toying with the idea of going back to school to get my masters in meteorology.  I started to look into which U.S. universities offered meteorology courses and began the application process. I was planning on attending a local University because I had recently gotten engaged and was planning my wedding, but as time went on the relationship began to take a turn for the worse and eventually we decided to call the wedding off. That was a turning period in my life when I decided that not only wanted to pursue higher education but that I also wanted to travel and experience what life had to offer.  I had already been accepted into the University of Maryland’s Masters Program for Meteorology so I decided that would be my back-up plan and I started to think of places I always wanted to see outside of the United States. I decided I had to go to an English speaking country, because being an ‘Ignorant American’ I don’t speak any other languages. I had already visited Australia, so I ruled that out and concentrated on England and Ireland.  I applied to the University of Reading and to University College Dublin. I was accepted into both programs but decided I had more interest in living in Dublin then Reading, and it didn’t hurt that UCD was less than half the price of U.S. Schools and the University of Reading.  So I picked UCD and never looked back. 


2. What was your favorite aspect of that course?

I enjoyed the small size of the course and the individual attention that was given to each student. My favorite module of the course was Climate Dynamics; I enjoyed studying the large scale weather patterns over small scale forecasting. What I did find ironic about the course was that I traveled all the way from Havre de Grace, Maryland, USA to Dublin Ireland only to find out that the very first Numeric Weather Prediction was conducted on the ENIAC at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, only about 3 miles from my house.

3. What are the main differences between the Irish climate and that of your home town of Baltimore, Maryland? Which do you prefer?

As you already are aware, Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, much like the west coast of the US, with a narrower temperature range.  Like the west coast areas of the US, such as Oregon and Washington, there isn’t really a dry season and cloud cover is more constant. Unlike Ireland, Maryland has more of a continental climate with more extreme variations in the seasons and precipitation.  The temperature in Maryland generally ranges from -10C to 35C; however the lowest temperature ever recorded in the state was -40C and the highest was 43C. Maryland also experiences extreme weather conditions such as severe thunderstorms, hail, hurricanes, blizzards and tornadoes, which Ireland does not usually receive.  In 2010 we received over 6 feet of snow and this summer we have had over 20 tornadoes touchdown in the state, however none have been fatal. I would take Ireland’s climate over Maryland’s any day of the week.

4. What's your favorite weather saying?

 “Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

5. If you had a weather wand what weather would you choose?

An autumn day, when the leaves are changing color and a crisp breeze is blowing through trees.

6. At university you had some lectures on random weather trivia? Can you give some (printable) examples?

Of course! Below is some trivia in no specific order.

  • Increased ozone pollution in the troposphere destroys organic material.  This will cause erasers to smear on paper and cause runs in women’s nylon.  Eventually it can eat away wood.
  • The largest percentage of work place related injuries and deaths occur during low pressure systems.
  • More heart attacks occur during low pressure systems than any other weather event.
  • Memory is negatively affected when people are subjected to hot and cold temperatures. 
  • Test scores increase during low pressure systems.  Some of the highest Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) group scores recorded were during hurricanes and tropical storms.
  • The coldest American Professional Football game ever played had a wind chill of -48C (this may be the coldest sporting event to ever be held at a professional level, but I’m not sure).
  • Death Valley, California's temperature has the U.S. temperature record: 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.6C) recorded at Greenland Ranch. 
  • Prospect Creek, Alaska holds the U.S. temperature record for the coldest temperature: minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 C)
  • The fastest change in temperature ever recorded was in Spearfish, South Dakota with a change of 49 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C) in 2 minutes.  The temperature at 7:30 am was -4 F (-20C) and then as the Chinook Winds moved in, the temperature rose to 45 F (7 C) by 7:32 am.  As the winds continued the temperature rose to 54 F (12 C).  When the Chinook finally died down the temperature dropped 58 F (32 C) back to -4 F (-20C) in under 30 minutes.
  • The difference between the hot and cold temperature extremes ever recorded on earth is over 260 degrees Fahrenheit (126C).
  • The largest hail stone ever discovered was found in Nebraska and its circumference was that of a soccer ball
  •  You can use field crickets to estimate the temperature outside by counting the chirps in a minute and using Dolbear’s Law:  T = 50+[(N-40)/4]  T = temperature, N = number of chirps per minute

7. What type of conditions do you expect on your upcoming expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro?

I’m expecting to experience six different climates during my trip, the climate will change with the elevation of our climb; here is a break down. We begin our climb in what is known as the Bushlands Zone ranging from 2,600ft to 6,000 ft; temperatures and weather patterns here will be similar to that of the equator. After we leave the Bushlands we enter the Rainforest Zone (6,000ft to 9,200 ft) - here the humidity and precipitation will increase and nights will become cooler.  From 9,200ft to 11,000ft we will be in the less moist Heath Zone where vegetation is limited to small plants and shrubs and the temperature begins to drop. As we travel on we will move into the Mooreland Zone (11,000ft to 13,200ft) which will become increasingly cool and arid. Nighttime temperatures in the Mooreland Zone are expected to be around 0 C. As we increase our altitude from 13,200ft to 16,500ft we will be in the Alpine Desert Zone which is known to have large temperature variations between nightly lows and daily highs.  Temperatures can range from below 0 C at night to 35 C during the day and water is increasingly scarce. Above 16,500ft we will be in the Arctic Zone, which receives less then 100mm of precipitation each year with lows around -15 C with and highs around 0 C. So basically we have to pack for all seasons and temperatures ranging from -15 C to 35 C, it should be interesting!

8. Celsius or Fahrenheit?

Fahrenheit, it’s hard to think in Celsius here when all forecasts are given in Fahrenheit.

9. How do meteorology/environmental issues feature in your job?

I work for the U.S. Federal Government for the Department of Veterans Affairs as an Environmental Program Manager.  Basically, I manage, develop, and audit the environmental programs at VA Medical Centers in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US.  The Environmental Programs I develop incorporate everything from environmental compliance to energy independence and water use reduction. There is a direct correlation with the work I do and climate studies, in fact a large portion of the mandates I enforce come from air pollution studies and global warming data.  There has always been a push from the field of meteorology to minimize global warming, or at least our effect on global warming, and this is one of the main objectives of my programs in the Medical Centers. We focus on preventing further pollution of the atmosphere, land and water and minimizing our use of natural resources.  It has been my experience that these goals are common across both fields.

10. Have you ever experienced a hurricane?

Yes, two of which stick out in my memory.  Hurricane Bob in 1991, which was not a terribly bad storm but we were stranded in Ocean City MD, a coastal city, during the storm, which created 12 ft waves and a strong storm surge up the beach.  Since I was only 9 years old, this terrified me.  In 2003 when I was in college at Salisbury University, which is a school located on the eastern shore of Maryland, Hurricane Isabel came through and knocked out power to most of the state for an entire week.  Additionally the storm surge up the Chesapeake Bay was strong enough to flood coastal towns and dislodge boardwalks and promenades.  The storm caused over $500 million in damage to the state.

11. Ireland came to a standstill at times during the last couple of winters because of snow. Have you got any advice for us?

Be prepared; buy some snow shovels and salt. When Maryland knows that a snow storm is likely the roads are salted for 24 hours leading up to the event and then non-stop while it is snowing/ freezing rain. In 2010, during a particularly large snow storm, our city hired private contractors with backhoes to come into our neighborhood and clear out the snow that had accumulated; by the next day the roads were clear even though there was 4 feet of snow on our lawn.  It’s a lot easier said than done; Maryland Government knows that it is likely that we will experience some snow each year so it is budgeted into our state expenditures, for Ireland snow is less likely so there is less money put aside for it.  

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