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 Tamara Houston, a climatologist and national partnership liaison at NCEI’s Regional Climate Services Program.
What is your job title?
My job title is National Partnership Liaison as part of NCEI’s Regional Climate Services Program in Asheville, North Carolina.
What is your specific area of expertise?
My entire career has been spent in various aspects of Climate Services.
What was your first job? How did it prepare you for your current position?
In my first career job, I served as the service climatologist at the University of Illinois’s Midwestern Regional Climate Center (RCC) in Champaign. This position introduced me to a wide array of RCC, NCEI and NOAA products and services for sharing with user communities. In turn, the discussions with users broadened my awareness of the variety of ways weather and climate information is used for decision-making. I have continued to build on these interactions throughout my career as I worked on projects related to data quality, product development, and user engagement.
How did you end up at NCEI?
During graduate school, I applied for a Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) position at NCEI. I worked in Asheville for a summer and following graduation, it was converted to a permanent position. As of May 2021, I have worked at NCEI for 23 years!
What does a usual workday look like for you?
Lots of meetings and lots of email! As an engager, I am frequently interacting with users, colleagues, and partners on a variety of activities. From engaging with users through data requests or at meetings and conferences, to collaborating with colleagues and partners on a specific project, my time is often spent working with others in a team to get the job done.
What question are you asked most often when someone finds out what you do? How do you respond?
As a meteorologist/climatologist, the first question asked is usually "What is the weather going to be like tomorrow?". I then am able to share that I work at NCEI, the world's largest archive of environmental information and that I help connect that data and information to decision-makers.
What sort of training and education would one need for your job?
I have a bachelor's degree in meteorology and a master's degree in geography with an emphasis in applied climatology. This has allowed me to work on a wide variety of climate services activities. More recently, my training has also included project management and contract acquisitions.
What inspired you to pursue a career in your field?
I grew up in the rural Midwest and have always enjoyed a good thunderstorm. Early on, I aspired to be a storm chaser. While my interest in weather never waned, my emphasis shifted more toward climatology as I took classes and was exposed to the various aspects of the field of meteorology.
What projects are you working on now? Are there any upcoming projects that you are excited about?
In my role within the Regional Climate Services Program, I work closely with the Regional Climate Services Directors as well key regional partners such as the Regional Climate Centers and State Climatologists (AASC). We recently awarded new contracts with the six Regional Climate Centers and I look forward to continuing the work we are doing together to meet the needs of users at the national, regional, and state levels.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
My favorite part of my job is the engagement with our partners and users and learning from each other. Just when I think I have heard of all of the ways weather and climate information is used in decision-making, from providing data to insurance agents to verify claims to identifying when particular temperature and precipitation thresholds will cause impacts to health or property, the next request for information comes across my desk.
What challenges have you had to deal with in your career?
A recent challenge has been dealing with COVID-19's impact on how we engage with our users. I was a part of several user workshops that were scheduled throughout the spring and summer of 2020 in which a decision had to be made very quickly to either postpone or switch to a virtual format. While the shift to a virtual format included a learning curve as we picked up on new technology and ways to foster dialog, one benefit that emerged is that we had more attendees participate than we would have if the event was held in-person as originally planned.
Who are you outside of your career?
Outside of my career, I am a wife and mom to two teenage boys. At this stage in life, after-work activities usually involve getting the boys where they need to go and supporting them in their activities.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
I am an avid waterfall hiker. Western North Carolina has a lot of beautiful waterfalls and weekends are often spent on a trail to see them. When I travel, I have been known to check a map for waterfalls in that area, too.
Last book you read?
With the recent anniversary of the April 2011 tornado outbreak, I became aware of and started reading "What Stands in a Storm: A True Story of Love and Resilience in the Worst Superstorm in History" by Kim Cross.