Watching the Weather
Any time of day, anywhere FedEx flies or sends vehicles, your shipment could be affected by inclement or dangerous weather. But rest assured. All hints of imposing weather are kept under the watchful eye of the FedEx meteorology department, headed in part by senior meteorologist Erik Proseus.
When major weather events loom or are unfolding, FedEx meteorologists are quick to act. From within the Global Operations Control Center (GOCC) in Memphis, they work directly with administrators, dispatchers and senior staff as they watch monitors, review reports and prepare forecasts. Their challenge is to assist FedEx Express aircraft and vehicles in avoiding potential disruptions so deliveries stay on schedule whenever possible.
“Basically every forecast we produce has some end result on the operation,” Proseus says. “Every forecast, even if it’s not really bad weather, has some sort of impact down the line.”
Attracted to storms
Proseus, one of four administrators in the 15-member meteorology department, traces his interest in weather to when he was in middle school. He had just moved to Memphis with his family in 1986 when a series of weather events struck in a two- or three-week span — a large tornado, a flood and then a major snowfall. From that point on, contemplating the power of these storms made Proseus more respectful and inquisitive of the weather.
His curiosity prompted him to get a Bachelor of Science degree in geography with a meteorology concentration from the University of Memphis. He joined FedEx in 2004, and now also predicts the weather for his Memphis-area weather website and mobile app MemphisWeather.net.
But Proseus doesn’t need a major weather event to capture his attention and keep him on his toes. Along with the other FedEx meteorologists, he monitors conditions and issues forecasts 24-7 even when the weather is calm. Those reports, officially known as Terminal Aviation Forecasts or TAFs, serve as the official forecasts for many of the domestic, and some international, airports FedEx uses.
Covering the clock
The meteorologists at FedEx typically work their shifts in pairs, with one focusing on the northern half of the U.S. and the other on the southern half. They review TAFs and get briefings from those on previous shifts and amend forecasts when conditions change.
“Whenever we’re flying an airplane anywhere in the world, a meteorologist has to be on duty, so we cover the clock,” Proseus says.
They consult computer models and other data and produce new forecasts multiple times during every shift, working in the glow of four monitors clustered at their workstations. They often break away from their reports to respond to questions from dispatchers and pilots.
“Pilots can call us from anywhere in the world, speak with a human being and get a little more information or additional detail other than what they get on the paper copy of their forecast,” Proseus says. “It’s a continuing process of seeing new data as it comes in, updating forecasts, producing new forecasts and answering those questions as they come up.”
Protection during storms
FedEx meteorologists are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to forecast weather globally. “Any place where there’s a hot spot of weather ― whether it’s a typhoon going into Japan or a major winter storm in Europe ― we have to be in tune,” Proseus says. “We support international GOCC as well and they’re flying all over the world. While they may use specific aviation forecasts from a foreign government, they rely on us for that in-house expertise to get more insight.”
When a hurricane or a tornado looms or roads are impassible because of floodwaters or a large snowfall, the meteorology department provides input on how long operations may continue in the affected area or when they may resume after an event ends. They also offer advice on changing operations, such as flying freight over the Rockies instead of trying to drive it through when a major snowstorm hits.
“Safety is always first,” Proseus says. “The decisions are going to be made first in the name of safety. And if it’s not deemed safe or legal [based on local authorities’ orders] to operate in certain areas, we won’t. The best we can do is to make sure we give the most accurate and timely information possible that allows them to make those decisions.”
Small business shipping: plan ahead
Peak season coincides with the onset of early winter storms. Proseus reminds shoppers to place their orders early and for small businesses to plan ahead, when possible, for the holiday shipping season.
“Don’t wait till the last minute. Ship early,” Proseus says. “That way, if there’s some delay in the package getting where it needs to be you can anticipate that ahead of time.”*
To monitor weather forecasts and keep track of conditions along transit routes, Proseus recommends using local sources rather than national weather apps. National weather apps tend to be based on computer-driven models alone, while forecasts from local meteorologists will be more consistent and reliable, he says. Businesses and consumers can also keep in touch with the status of their shipments with the easy FedEx Tracking module on fedex.com.
Though Proseus is a man for all seasons, he has yet to see a tornado firsthand and has declined invitations to join storm chasers in pursuit of twisters. And there’s another thing he’d rather not do. While the weather may be a favorite conversational icebreaker for some people, Proseus says he and other meteorologists prefer other subjects.
“Everybody else likes to talk about the weather, but when we go to a cocktail party, anything but the weather would be great,” Proseus says.
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*The FedEx Money-Back Guarantee does not apply in cases involving local and national weather conditions and national or local disruptions to air or ground transportation networks.