Odd Jobs: Weather observer - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: Weather observer

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More than 100 flights pass through Burlington International Airport on any given day. But none of the passengers would reach their destinations without the help of Peggie Potter.

"Being the nerd that I am, I've always loved science and especially natural science," she said.

Potter is a senior certified contract aviation weather observer working for a Florida-based company called IBEX.

"My job is basically to keep track of the current conditions," Potter said.

And she does it out of a converted storage closet at the Burlington airport. She calls it keeping her finger on the pulse.

"Weather observations are critical to airport operations," said Andy Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Nash works in the office down the hall. He says the two teams partner up to keep passengers moving.

"Pilots cannot takeoff or land if they don't have current weather observations and forecasts. We handle the forecasts. Peggie and her crew, they make sure the observations are current and correct," Nash explained.

Every hour Potter heads outside to check the clouds.

"Now there's three layers to the clouds. There are low, medium and high. Your low ones would be your cumulus, like that little guy over there. And over the mountains," she said. "What you see over there is medium level, probably altostratus and then you get the high stuff, the cirrus."

Reporter Jennifer Costa: You're kind of a cloud expert.

Peggie Potter: Well, I hope so (laughs). I've been doing this job since 1995.

But her fascination with the weather started much earlier than that.

"When I was in the second grade. When I was just an itty, bitty kid," Potter said.

She was assigned the book "The Junior Science Edition of Rain, Hail, Sleet & Snow."

"I read that book to death," she recalled. "I read it so many times I had it memorized."

In 1995, she graduated from Mississippi State University's broadcast meteorology program. But rather than opting for a career in TV, she took a turn in weather observation.

"This job has taken me halfway across the country and back basically," Potter said.

From airports in Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Minnesota, she landed back in New England in 2001 after becoming the weather observation supervisor in Burlington.

"What do I love about my job?! Oh man. I get to go out and look at the sky, probably one of my most favorite things to do. I think it's one of the most beautiful things in all of creation," Potter said.

She and her staff of six have two busy seasons. In the summer months they monitor convective activity like thunderstorms, which can produce hazards like hail and lightening. During winter, there's icing and snow to watch out for.

"So they're out there in the middle of the snowstorm getting those snowfall readings that everyone is curious about how much snow is falling in Burlington," Nash said.

Potter's hourly reports are sent to the National Weather Service, and then disseminated worldwide. She says the job attracts former air traffic controllers, pilots and service members. But it's not for everyone.

"We work holidays. We work weekends. And we eat our meals right at our desks because the weather doesn't take time off for meals," she said.

An Odd Job that looks to the clouds to keeps pilots and passengers safe in the air.

Potter says a mid-level weather observer earns around $28 per hour. In Burlington, there are three full-time observers and three part-timers.

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