Meteorologist goes from the Lake to the Gulf

It’s a long way from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico, but for Michael Hansen, it wasn’t too big of a jump.

Four years after completing his major in Atmospheric Sciences and graduating from UWM with a BS, Hansen is a marine meteorologist working for Wilkens Weather Technologies in Houston. The company provides custom forecasts for several clients mainly in the oil and gas industries, especially those conducting off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Really, it’s anything to do in a marine forecasting environment – anything on the water is what we take care of,” Hansen said. “The work rigs that are installing oil platforms, the platforms themselves, tugs that tow barges of equipment across shipping routes. … We’ve got one luxury cruise vessel that we do forecasts for.”

Michael Hansen
Atmospheric Sciences alumnus Michael Hansen takes a break from putting together a forecast at his job as a marine meteorologist.

Hansen has always been a weather enthusiast. He remembers what a treat it was to watch the Weather Channel when he was growing up, and he chose to attend UWM because of the university’s strong Atmospheric Sciences program and the presence of Innovative Weather, an on-campus forecasting company run by the Atmospheric Sciences program and staffed by undergraduates, graduates, and interns from UWM.

It was his experience working as an intern at Innovative Weather – and its proximity to Lake Michigan – that made Hansen stand out when he was applying for jobs. He was initially interested in working for the National Weather Service, but due to the economic downturn still plaguing the nation in 2011 when Hansen graduated, the NWS had instituted a hiring freeze. Hansen was discouraged but kept sending out resumes. Then Wilkens Weather Technologies called.

“One thing they were actually really keen on was my background with Innovative Weather and some of the forecasting that I’d done on Lake Michigan. … They saw that on my resume and said, this guy doesn’t need to learn all that much more about forecasting in a marine environment,” Hansen recalled. “Granted, Lake Michigan is a lot different from the Gulf of Mexico.”

Lake Michigan doesn’t get hurricanes, for instance. It lacks ocean currents and the waves are usually much calmer than you’ll find in the gulf. Hansen’s clients are interested in all of those things, especially waves. Some of the longer vessels used in installing oil platforms or underwater piping don’t handle certain types of waves well, Hansen said. They’re also worried about thunderstorms and even tropical storms.

“We handle the weather forecasts. We’ll each do between 30 and 50 forecasts a day, depending on what region we’re working on,” Hansen said. In addition to forecasts, the meteorologists also produce specialized hurricane bulletins, because those types of storms can have a massive impact – quite literally – on clients.

“We actually had a client in the Caribbean run into issues with Hurricane Joaquin,” Hansen said. He and his team were there to provide real-time support, as the office is staffed 24 hours a day, including weekends.

In addition, Hansen volunteers for other projects around the office including quality control and data management. He credits his classes at UWM and his internship at Innovative Weather for helping him succeed.

“They did a great job of giving me the basic meteorology education, and I say basic in terms of giving me the groundwork for everything I needed,” Hansen said. “UWM was able to set the bar high for my career, while Innovative Weather gave me a head start in work experience. When you boil it down, Innovative Weather was just a simpler version of what I do now.”

– Sarah Vickery