The eye of a weather expert
Career came after time as a police photographer In just a few short weeks, US meteorologist Ross Hays has become an expert on local Wanaka weather patterns. Marjorie Cook talked to the man who said ‘‘yes’’ to Nasa’s balloon launch last Friday.
US meteorologist Ross Hays says he has a knack for attracting ‘‘the worst’’ weather.
In Wanaka with Nasa’s Columbia Science Balloon Facility team, which successfully launched its $1.6 million super pressure balloon last Friday, Hays said he had got used to encountering record-breaking weather where ever the team has gone.
‘‘When I went to Sweden it was the snowiest May in 200 years. At Alice Springs, the aboriginal community said the rivers had received the most rain in 100 years. Here, something like Cyclone Pam had not been seen for 20 years . . . We are unique,’’ he joked.
Hays and his mission boss, Debbie Fairbrother were thrilled to get the balloon airborne, after an aborted attempt on Monday March 23 and earlier delays caused by Cyclone Pam.
The Nasa team was prepared to hang out in Wanaka until the end of April but Hays was keen to be home by mid-April to meet some new ‘‘Westie’’ friends his wife Cynthia is caring for at their West Highland Terrier refuge.
Hays was not among those who began scouting Wanaka as a possible launch site about four years ago.
After just a few weeks in town, he quickly became an expert on local conditions.
He collected some of his information from scratch, because although weather is a national obsession, New Zealand’s airports do not collect and plot weather information on the hour, as many other countries do.
His sources include weather stations in Invercargill and the North Island, but Hays would love more local information.
‘‘I have found one on a track near Lake Hawea. But I don’t know who it belongs to or how to access the data,’’ Hays said.
He hopes Nasa will return next year so is keen to partner up with Upper Clutha volunteers considering installing weather stations on their properties.
Schools and farmers were ideal candidates and in other countries, the Columbia Science Balloon Facility has paid up front for schools to put in the computerised weather stations (a pole with a box attached to it, sending data to a laptop that needs to be left on all the time).
Hays has been a life-long weather fanatic.
‘‘My wife calls herself aweather widow. I have always loved weather but I had a career in criminal justice first. I was a forensic photographer,’’ he says.
After five years photographing accident and trauma scenes, he decided to go back to school in New England to study meteorology.
That led to a 20-year career with CNN, producing maps and graphics and bulletin for presenters, and doing occasional onscreen work.
He has spent the past 11 years with the balloon facility, travelling to places he never imagined he would go, including the Arctic Circle and Antarctica.
Ross Hays analyses weather patterns at Wanaka Airport.