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Alum Leads Space Weather Prediction Center

“We’re here to forecast the more dangerous elements, including their potential impacts on satellites, communications/navigation, power grids….”

Mike Bettwy’s career path was never in doubt. The Millersville University alumnus says he remembers being as young as five or six years old and discovering his interest in math, science and especially the weather, clouds and nature. Ever since the first grade, Bettwy knew he wanted to go into meteorology and forecasting the weather. Today, he works as the head of the Forecast Office at the Space Weather Prediction Center.

In this position, Bettwy forecasts space weather and coordinates with partners, like NASA, to identify space weather events. He assists the forecasters, talks with the media, interacts with visitors and works with researchers to help develop tools and applications to aid in forecasting operations.

Space weather, Bettwy explains, is essentially the “weather of the sun.” “Even though the sun is 93 million miles away from Earth, it is very active and constantly ‘belching’ gas and particles into space, which is known as the solar wind,” he says. “When there are major solar flares or related activity on the sun – when more plasma, gas and other particles get hurled away from the sun – it can damage satellites, cause power outages and increase radiation exposure to astronauts.”

He continues, “We’re mostly here to forecast the more dangerous elements, including their potential impacts on satellites, communications/navigation, power grids and increased risk of heightened radiation exposure to astronauts. Airlines will even reroute their flights during significant events.”

Bettwy finds the work meaningful because it helps connect the public with his field. “Serving our partners and the public with actionable information is very motivating to me,” he says. We do our best every day to translate complex science into meaningful terms that everyone can understand so they can take appropriate action and be more informed.”

In addition to his current role, Bettwy has an accomplished resume. After graduating from MU, he worked as a contractor for NASA, conducting climate research and science writing. Then, he joined the National Weather Service as a forecaster before going into management. “It has been an exciting ride and has afforded me the opportunity to work in numerous locales around the country,” he shares.

Bettwy says that his time as a meteorology student at Millersville gave him the abilities needed to really understand the field. “MU’s rigorous program gave me the skills and education needed to think critically about all aspects of science, far beyond what you learn in specific courses and, most importantly, how to apply what you learned in a practical sense,” he says.

He adds that his time at the University was a terrific experience. “My classmates, the professors and the University as a whole were very supportive of learning; it was an encouraging environment. Each day was a treat! It was like earning a degree with a group of close friends – we all watched out for each other, and if you encountered a challenge or difficulty, you always knew that you could overcome it.”

Dr. Richard Clark, professor emeritus of meteorology, says that Bettwy has always exemplified the goals of the University’s meteorology program. “Mike came to Millersville with a passion for weather and superlative writing skills. In my 35 years of teaching an intensive writing course in meteorological instrumentation, Mike was the only student whose 10-page paper required no revision, and not for the lack of trying to find something.”

He continues, “Mike exemplifies the program goal of developing a workforce steeped in quantitative skills used in problem-solving and enriched with social skills that enable communication and collaboration. He is a reminder that so many of our productive alumni have moved up to leadership positions in government, private sectors, and academia.”

Clark says that MU meteorology graduates are everywhere doing great things and are the next generation who will impact the weather, water and climate fields. “It is not lost on us that Millersville was the first undergraduate meteorology program in the country to develop an academic concentration in heliophysics and space weather, and now to see one of our graduates have a leadership role at SWPC is extremely rewarding,” he concludes.

Bettwy adds, “I very much enjoyed the research studies I completed while at MU; they taught me so much and gave me exposure to some of the brightest minds in the industry. Of course, I will always fondly remember the professors for their passion and willingness to help in any way they could in our path to achieving our goals!”

Want to study meteorology? Find out more here. 

 

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