Eyes on the skies: AT&T’s private meteorologists
One floor below ground level, in an unassuming office building in a suburban Texas town, 3 men sit – glued to their computers – watching the sky from a room with no windows.
Welcome to the AT&T Weather Operations Center (or AWOC for short) – an exceptionally busy place these days as you might imagine.
Norm Dingmore is the licensed meteorologist who leads this group. A Navy man of 26 years who also spent time as a TV weather reporter in nearby Dallas, Norm took a 6-week military leave of absence in 2005 to work on hurricane cleanup after Katrina ravaged New Orleans and surrounding areas. "The experience was very valuable in helping me understand the immense nature of damage and destruction that a major hurricane can bring to highly populated areas," Norm says.
The specialized team Norm has assembled over the last 5 years spends its time watching weather events all across the world, making recommendations to many different parts of the business, rain or shine.
"Nowadays people can get weather any time just by turning on the television, but what's unique about Weather Operations for AT&T is that weather's not the end game," Norm explains. "There are a lot of operational decisions that need to be made each and every day to do the best for our customers. Every part of our company is weather-sensitive, and it's our job to use 21st century technology to give the best possible information to decision-makers so they can make the best possible decisions."
The flood whisperer
Daniel Addington spends his time predicting where the water will rise. His meteorology degree comes with a specialty in hydrology. Hurricane seasons provides a perfect example of Daniel's value as he examines river and precipitation forecast data to identify AT&T central offices that needed to be sandbagged before a storm makes landfall. For some storms, the focus turns to road accessibility, with Daniel anticipating when certain road systems would be passable again, helping our crews get service restored as quickly as possible. Hearing how valuable that information was to the teams is part of what drives him.
"It represents a tremendous validation of our small department's place within the organization," Daniel says. "It also makes me feel good that another employee who has to make critical and difficult decisions during these monster storm events has it a little easier because they have my information at hand and they trust it."
Flooding is always a risk, so Daniel stays busy monitoring storms all over the country. He also maintains a database that keeps track of the team's forecast accuracy – a scorecard of sorts. And he produces monthly storm and rainfall reports requested by specific business units.
Daniel clearly sees the value in his current role: "AWOC's future role in risk assessment and post-storm recovery during times of flooding is an area that will greatly affect and drive my career with the company for years to come."
Hitting close to home
The newest member of the team arrived just in time for the historic 2017 storm season – one of the worst on record. John Sisak is a tropical meteorologist (meaning tropical systems are his focus). He had only been on the job a few weeks when those massive storms began to form.
"It had been over 10 years since we had seen any major hurricane make landfall in the U.S., let alone 3, one right after the other," John explains.
And that hurricane season was also very personal for John. A Miami-Dade County native, most of John's family lives right in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s track.
"Who in my family still lives down there? The answer is all of them!" John remembers his concern. "Overall, they fared well given the circumstances. They all lost power for about 3-5 days, but the main damage caused was to trees. They were very lucky."
When these major storms hit, the urgency turns up a notch, and John rises to the occasion.
"I double down, using every available resource and skill I have to accurately assist our teams to prepare and respond to the impending disaster,” John says. “Ensuring our teams are well-informed about the storm and properly positioned to respond has special significance to me with so much family that is often in the line of fire.”
John's level of understanding of tropical weather allows the company to be more proactive in its preparation and response to a storm – particularly one impacting a coastline. He also spends a good deal of his time predicting and identifying the various risks that will develop from a hurricane and which areas would be most vulnerable to those risks.
Officially Atlantic hurricane season continues through November, but this team sees little calm between storms. Soon it will be winter weather consuming their time. But on any given day, there could be flooding, strong winds, lightning, tornados… Somewhere, weather is making things challenging for AT&T employees.
But whatever Mother Nature brings – Norm, Daniel and John will be ready.