Reflecting on nearly 40 years with the National Weather Service

Paul Tolleson (KATU News photo)

Paul Tolleson has only been retired for about a week. He's back at the National Weather Service office in Northeast Portland where he's spent nearly 30 years forecasting weather for Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. He's been with the NWS itself since about 1980.

He's still able to log in at the office in Portland, and take a peek at the forecast, so he launches straight into what to expect for the rest of the day.

"There's probably a few showers still, I think, this afternoon," he said.

But this is a calm day in the scheme of things he's seen through his career. He reflects back on the busiest day in this office. It was February 1996, the region had just gone through a deep freeze with an ice storm, when four days of heavy rain started. Heavy rain, melting snow and ice, and the Willamette began to rise and flood waters spread around the region.

The phone was ringing off the hook at the Weather Service office.

"As soon as anybody hung the phone up, the phone rang again," said Tolleson.

It was the media, the public, everyone was calling, trying to find out if the flood waters would reach their area.

"It's kind of the flood that we still compare all the other floods to," he added.

A UCLA graduate and native of Sacramento, Tolleson's career with the National Weather Service took him from sunny, smoggy Los Angeles, to Boise, Idaho and finally to Portland in 1990 where he's been ever since.

"It's the longest I've ever been in one place, one location, in my life," he said.

A place that's been great for his family, "my kids loved it," and his career as a lead forecaster. And the changes he's seen, the advancements in the tools to issue those forecasts have changed dramatically.

"I'd say 80 percent of the changes or maybe 90 percent of the changes in my career have been the last 15 to 20 years, since the mid 90s," he said.

One important upgrade has been to the radar system. Compared to the past, they can now use it as a tool to see more of the make up of a particular storm. Something that helped them during the 2008 Vancouver Tornado.

"And we could actually see that and track it, and have some confidence in issuing the tornado warning and then keeping it out for an appropriate time before it started to fall apart," he said.

Forecast models have advanced considerably, too. And there are more changes in the works. But with retirement, Paul Tolleson says he'll miss the team at the forecast office, but is looking forward to getting on a regular sleep schedule and some new adventures outside of work.

"Do some traveling with my wife and some of those things," he said.

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