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.

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS -

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.

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