Weathering the storm: chasing your dream job

When a severe storm occurs, most people stay indoors or seek shelter, but not me.

My name is Alexandra Schella and I am a storm chaser and meteorology enthusiast. My first experience with a severe storm was at the age of 11, when I was at a family friend’s cottage. A severe thunderstorm rolled in across the lake, and the cottage’s positioning gave me a direct view of the oncoming event. I was awestruck as I stood on the dock and watched this beautiful storm ominously approach me. The next day, I spent the whole five-hour car ride home watching YouTube videos of storm chasers in action, and I knew that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

As soon as I got home, I began buying books about severe storms and tornadoes, determined to learn everything I could. In 2019, I “chased” my first storm. I use inverted commas because what I was really doing was running around my backyard with my dad’s Nikon camera taking pictures. The next day, I went to download the pictures, and discovered that they were all overexposed, and looked horrendous. I learned next how to use cameras: the different settings to use for different conditions, exposure, filters, and more. I also learned how to edit photos and enhance their quality, which really made a big difference in my photography. In 2020, I began learning how to forecast storms using supercomputers and other software. I have since developed an intuitive sense for forecasting and can tell almost instantly, based on temperature, moisture, wind, cloud cover, and structure, if a storm is likely to develop.

I have fast-tracked high school, doing grades 9-11 in two and a half years as opposed to three, and once I graduate in January of 2024, I hope to attend McGill University to study atmospheric sciences. My goal is to get a bachelor's degree in science with a major in atmospheric sciences and a minor in chemistry, then a master's degree in the same or similar topics. My hope is to one day work either independently or for a major weather corporation as a field meteorologist – someone who forecasts, predicts, and chases storms professionally.

Meteorology is an extremely male-dominated industry, with over 65 per cent of meteorologists in Canada identifying as men (The Weather Network, Statistics Canada, 2022). I want to encourage more women to take interest in meteorology to change those statistics.

My professional idol is Hank Schyma, also known as Pecos Hank. You can check out his YouTube channel here. I have followed Hank since 2018, and I think I would actually pass out if I met him. I have also been inspired by Ginger Zee, the chief meteorologist for ABC News in the USA and one of the only women in the company’s history to hold the position. Follow Ginger's Instagram here. Jim Cantore (Jim's Twitter) and Reed Timmer (Reed's Instagram) have also been influential figures in my journey through the wild world of weather.

I hope that by helping to change the face of the meteorology and storm chasing industry by encouraging more women to join the field, I might someday be someone else’s career inspiration, too.


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