Here at NCEI, we aren’t just data—we are people. In our Humans of NCEI series, meet the awesome minds that manage one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world. Get to know Jake Fortune, a Supervisory Communications Specialist.
What is your job title?
Supervisory Communications Specialist. I lead the Communications and Outreach Branch at NCEI.
What is your specific area of expertise?
My educational background is in atmospheric sciences. Over the course of my career, I have broadened my area of expertise to include climatic data analysis, government policy, and communications.
What was your first job? How did it prepare you for your current position?
I was a sales clerk in a national retail chain when I was in high school. The job taught me how to provide good customer service, which is an important part of being a civil servant.
How did you end up at NCEI?
I started working at NCEI as a summer intern while studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. After the completion of my internship I was converted to a full-time federal employee.
What does a usual workday look like for you?
I love my job because no two days are ever the same. First and foremost, I get to advocate for the great folks on my team to ensure they have the necessary tools to do their jobs. The second thing I get to do is ensure NCEI is putting its best foot forward in how it communicates and shares the great work happening across the organization to the world. The scope of scientific data and products that NCEI creates is incredible. My team gets to tell that story and inform the American public about our changing environment and ensure decision makers have the relevant environmental information to stay informed.
What question are you asked most often when someone finds out what you do? How do you respond?
“Do you get tired of people telling you that climate change is a hoax?” My job as a science communicator is to provide a plain language description of complicated issues, like climate change. I enjoy getting to talk about the science and data that NCEI provides the world, letting us know the magnitude of the changes we are seeing in our environment and what is causing it.
What sort of training and education would one need for your job?
I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in Atmospheric Sciences. I realized early in my career that the science we do as an organization will only be useful if we can effectively communicate about it to the public and policy makers. That realization caused me to focus on developing skills in communication and policy, and I am fortunate that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NCEI helped me pursue the relevant training to be successful.
What inspired you to pursue a career in your field?
I have wanted to be a meteorologist since I was in elementary school. I grew up in West Virginia, and the blizzard of 1993 changed how I saw the world, and I became completely enthralled with the weather. That event still has an impact on me today. I am fascinated about how we as a government agency have a responsibility to communicate effectively about the changes we are seeing in our environment, especially extreme events like the 1993 blizzard.
What projects are you working on now? Are there any upcoming projects that you are excited about?
We are working with a wide range of scientists, from climatologists to space weather scientists, to highlight the two upcoming eclipses that will be visible in the United States in October 2023 and April 2024, respectively. I love getting to work on a topic that covers a wide range of scientific domains, all of which NCEI directly supports. I am already making travel plans to witness the eclipse next year!
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
The people. NOAA and NCEI is a truly incredible place, everyone is so passionate about their work. It is inspiring.
What challenges have you had to deal with in your career?
Early in my career, my job was to communicate about the state of the U.S. climate system. It was a fun, but challenging time, especially given the media’s growing interest in what was going on with our changing climate. I struggled always having to talk about horrific events that impacted real people – deadly tornado outbreaks, devastating hurricanes, and record-breaking wildfires. I had to reframe my thinking and focus on the need to provide an objective, data-based analysis of these events.
Who are you outside of your career?
My husband and I have six-year old twin sons. After work, I am usually shuttling kids to soccer practice or playing a game of pickup basketball on our street. The boys love hiking–on the weekends you can usually find us exploring the beautiful trails, views, and waterfalls of Western North Carolina. I also enjoy distance running and playing volleyball, when I can find the time.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
I grew up in a small town in West Virginia and my dad was a coal miner.
Last book you read?
I am working my way through the Dog Man graphic novel series with my kids.
What is on your playlist?
Sierra Farrell, The National, Sylvan Esso, and Lizzo.
Last country you visited?
Mexico. We visited Puerto Vallarta in April 2023. It really is lovely there.
We have a dog named Pepper and a cat named Dos. I also have a 75-gallon freshwater aquarium with fish and plants native to South American rivers.