My First Job: Heather Vazquez

A person’s first job in their field of choice kickstarts their career and sets the tone for the future. We spoke to recent graduates who make up the CASE community to learn more about what their first experience looked like. This is one in a series we’ve titled My First Job.


Everyone remembers where they were when Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in August of 1992. For Heather Vazquez, the destructive natural disaster fueled her eventual career path.

“My family and I lay on our mattress hiding in the closet. I just sat there wide awake listening to the howling winds and wishing I could understand how fast they were blowing and what exactly makes a hurricane,” Vazquez said. “As I grew older, the idea that severe weather can have such an impact on people’s lives just solidified my curiosity on how these storms can manifest themselves.”

Meteorology is a small field. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics there were only about 10,000 atmospheric scientists in 2018, including meteorologists.

Vazquez initially didn’t realize she had the ability to study weather, climate and the forces that sometimes cause drastic changes in our environment. She was a woman who was good at math and science and her dad convinced her to become a civil engineer.

During her initial undergraduate years, she had an internship with an engineering company and realized that field wasn’t for her. After some research, she switched to the atmospheric track within the Bachelor of Science in Geosciences to better align with her career goals.

She then landed a summer internship with the Center for Multi-scale Modeling and Atmospheric Processes in Colorado. While there, she analyzed atmospheric conditions favorable for Mesoscale Convective Vortices which are found in the eyewall of hurricanes and cyclones. She compared those that produce heavy precipitation against those that produce little to no precipitation.

Vazquez doubled down in 2013 as she began working towards both her master’s and PhD in geological and earth sciences. Then – thanks to the partnership between FIU and the local National Weather Service Office, WFO Miami – the opportunity to volunteer and help with small research projects presented itself.

One project turned into six years, including monitoring hurricane forecast track errors for Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the chance to shadow forecasters and get upper air certified.

“I don’t think I’d be here today without the network I’ve built during my time here coming in so often to maintain my relationships,” Vazquez said.

The relationships turned into her first job – a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Which, by the way, only hires about 50 to 75 new meteorologists annually.

“My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be competitive in the field that I’ve worked so hard to get my degree in, but my advice for those starting the job process is to take the time and really research what is out there. Don’t be afraid to go for that dream job. Don’t be afraid if you got a late start, because I did. If you know your passion, go for it.”

Some of her routine tasks include monitoring severe weather in the area, preparing the aviation forecast for local airports, creating the forecast package for the upcoming week and predicting marine and beach conditions for boaters and beach-goers. She’s also involved in decision support services when it comes to briefing FIU or Miami Beach on severe weather during outdoor events.

“I’ve learned just how much support we provide to the public and our partners. As a meteorology student I always enjoyed reading the daily forecast discussion to understand, but a lot of customers use these discussions for the day-to-day operations, decision making and planning.”

She hopes to become more involved with the research development of products that improve operations and forecasting methods.

Although each day is different for Vazquez, she’s fulfilled knowing how important the National Weather Service is for the general public.

“Our mission is to save lives and property with the forecasts we put out. I love knowing that what we do makes a difference even if we don’t often have a lot of face-to-face interactions with consumers.”