NCDC Insider: Meet Meteorologist Sam McCown
If you’ve ever contacted NCDC’s customer support team, you’ve likely talked with Meteorologist Sam McCown or one of his team members in the User Engagement Services Branch. How did Sam come to be part of NCDC’s User Engagement Services Branch? Well, it all started when he was just a young boy. Sam grew up on a farm, and at the age of 10, he already knew he wanted to be a meteorologist. He learned as much as he could about the weather throughout his life and has always considered himself to be a class of “weatherman.”
After he obtained his Bachelor’s in physics from Clemson University and his Master’s in Meteorology from Texas A&M, Sam began his career as an official meteorologist working with a consulting firm in Asheville, North Carolina, where he reconstructed weather conditions during aircraft accidents for seven years. Sam examined many high-profile accidents, including a crash into the Potomac caused by heavy snow near Washington, a crash caused by a strong downdraft in Dallas, Texas, and a crash north of Atlanta, Georgia, caused by heavy hail. Throughout his years recreating aircraft accident conditions, Sam became very knowledgeable about NCDC’s products and services, which he frequently used himself.
Then, in 1984, Sam came to work at NCDC, sharing his unique knowledge of climate data from a user perspective. Early on, Sam was promoted to Chief of the Climate Services Branch. However, he found he enjoyed interacting with customers and responding to their requests more than being a manager. So, he moved on to become a member of what was NCDC’s Research Customer Service Team at the time. This led him into developing satellite imagery and web pages. In this role, Sam developed a web page on The Perfect Storm of October 1991. The page and accompanying satellite image became very popular as the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” was about to be released in theaters. Sam’s perfect storm image was even featured on NBC Nightly News right before the movie’s release, coincidentally on Sam’s birthday.
Over the last year, Sam became Acting Chief of the User Engagement Services Branch. While he still prefers customer service, as a manager he says, “I do my best to help my team do great work and encourage them to participate in cross-divisional projects.” Overall, talking directly to customers and helping answer their questions are still Sam’s favorite parts of the job. “We get a lot of unique requests from many different kinds of people,” says Sam, “and, I really enjoy helping them find the data and information they need.”
In addition to helping customers, Sam is currently working on a project with his team to combine the various versions of NCDC’s Local Climatological Data records into a single product. This project will greatly improve access to these data, which consist of hourly, daily, and monthly summaries of conditions dating back to January 1, 2005 for approximately 1,000 U.S. locations.
Outside of his career, Sam enjoys horticulture activities as well as reading horror and scientific fiction novels. Sam grows a variety of exotic plants including the African blood lily, voodoo lily, and Banyan tree. Also, Sam scores an INFP (introversion, intuition, feeling, perception) on the Myers-Briggs test, which is quite unusual for someone in a science field.
We appreciate Sam’s many years of service at NCDC and wish him the best of luck as he retires in September!
Stay tuned for the next edition of NCDC Insider to meet more of the Center’s dedicated staff.