U meteorologist: El Ni

Vincent Staupe

Meteorologist and climatologist Mark Seeley has been a mainstay in what is now the University’s soil, water and climate department since 1978.

Seeley, a weekly commentator on Minnesota Public Radio, has also worked with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to develop natural barriers against drifting snow and recently penned the Minnesota Weather Almanac.

He spoke to the Daily on Tuesday about his career, his winter weather forecast and what Minnesota means to weather enthusiasts.

Give us a little background about yourself.

Well, I wasn’t born with a bug for the weather. I didn’t acquire it until I was a young adult.

(My wife and I) were living in Utah at the time. I was teaching math and my wife was teaching English as a second language.

And we had this absolutely fascinating local weatherman. I became absolutely infatuated because he was the most enthusiastic weather broadcaster that I have ever seen.

And that was how it started?

Well, I became one of his volunteer weather observers because we lived in a part of the Salt Lake Valley where they didn’t have a lot of weather observations. I made daily observations, reported regularly and occasionally got my name mentioned on the air.

Then I found out the University of Utah has a very good school of meteorology Ö I was able to take a course here and there and I decided this was a pretty fascinating field.

So you received your master’s in meteorology at Northern Illinois University and a doctorate in climatology from the University of Nebraska. What brought you to the University of Minnesota?

Following the devastating drought of 1976, which was ruinous to the Minnesota economy, the Minnesota Legislature – with some lobbying from the University administration – decided that they needed to create a new faculty position in climatology, but one that was heavily related to public education and public engagement, especially educating people about drought and flood risk.

My adviser in Nebraska very much lobbied the people up here to recruit me.

Has your role at the University changed since then?

It has broadened out. I do a lot of outreach education for the energy sector in anticipating climate trends and seasonal forecasts so they can adjust their production. And I do education programs for transportation and quite a bit of work for MnDOT.

So here’s a loaded question: What’s our winter forecast?

(Laughs) I don’t think you’d get much variance of opinion regarding the temperature outlook. In fact, I’d be surprised if you did because of the developing El Niño episode in the equatorial Pacific.

Most meteorologists are suggesting that we are set up to have another warmer than normal winter in Minnesota because this is the historical association with an El Niño episode.

What about snow?

On the contrary, I have seen no one who has a confident handle on what the snow season might look like. We may have too much snow or a snow deficiency – equal chances for above or below normal snowfall.

Sounds like Minnesota weather to me.

Minnesota is a weather person’s paradise because we get everything. We get absolutely every air mass and every kind of weather possible.

Any meteorologist worth his or her salt covets the opportunity to work here because they know they are going to be challenged. You can ask anyone in the weather service, they’ll tell you that when there’s a job opening in Minnesota, they literally get flooded with applications.

What is your favorite Minnesota weather phenomenon?

The fall color change. My wife and I make a habit of going up the Superior Hiking Trail every fall and picking different beautiful sections of the hiking trail to walk.