This month concludes our Third Thursday blog series, and I am so excited to have had the chance to talk with Cyrena for this edition! I first interacted with Cyrena when I saw a tweet about her new children’s book, The Weather Story with Frances Fox. She was kind enough to send me a signed copy of her book, and once I got my hands on it, I knew I wanted to talk with her!
Cyrena’s story began in Curacao, which is a beautiful Dutch Caribbean island centered between Aruba and Bonaire to form the ABC Islands. Though the weather there was actually pretty mild, her father and many in her family are pilots and she felt the connection between flying and meteorology at an early age. When she was three, her family moved to Denver and the weather there was a complete 180 from the everyday sunniness that she was used to. From thunderstorms and hail to crazy snowstorms, the weather was always changing. When she was five years old, she saw her first funnel cloud and tornado and her life was forever changed – from that moment on, she knew that she wanted to be a meteorologist.
She began college at the University of Oklahoma and finished at the Metropolitan State University in Denver. While in college, she worked at a lot of internships, from NSSL to The History Channel to a meteorological sensor company. She always advises young people to try everything and take every chance. She went to school *knowing* that she would get her degree and then work at NSSL, so she was thrilled when an internship at NSSL opened up the summer after her freshmen year. Her dream job! But…she quickly learned that it wasn’t for her. She knew that it was important for her to be physically involved in the weather, not at a desk all the time. All of her internships taught her a great deal about herself, both what she wanted and didn’t want, but also what she was good and not-so-good at. Without trying these things, she might not have taken the road of meteorological measurements and sensors, which took her to her dream jobs. So, try everything, whether you think you’ll like it or not and keep an open mind.
After college, she accepted her first job with AIRDAT, a NASA contractor that made meteorological sensors for aircraft that collect vertical profiles during the takeoffs and landings. She helped check the data for quality assurance and control, and even flew in test flights through turbulence simulations. From there, Cyrena moved on to join an air quality monitoring company that installed monitoring stations across North America, though most were in remote locations across the Alaskan tundra. With helicopter-access only locations, she credits this time as some of the coolest experiences she has ever had. From flying over volcanoes low enough to smell the sulfur, to watching roads and power lines disappear as they traveled deeper into untouched land, from plane to smaller plane to smaller plane as you ventured further into seeming nothingness. The highest mountain peak of a region that she spent the most time in was only 1,918 feet with a tree line (the line or altitude above which no trees grow) around 900 feet because conditions were so harsh. Being able to install a weather station on top of this mountain with crazy conditions, knowing that less than ten other people had ever been on that mountain, is one of the greatest experiences she could have asked for in her career. Experiencing such an immense amount of true wildlife, from bears to moose to foxes, was insane and exhilarating at the same time. Though she preferred winter over summer, when she would have to duct tape her sleeves so that mosquitos wouldn’t bite her (they would even bite areas of her scalp that were exposed when she braided her hair!)
After working in the wild and remote Alaskan tundra for a while, she began browsing for her next opportunity and saw an opening for the Director of Operations for Mount Washington Observatory (MWO). As a meteorologist, visiting Mount Washington had always been on her bucket list as it is notorious for its wild weather. The observatory holds the record for highest surface wind speed ever observed by man – 231 miles per hour on April 12, 1934! As she read through the job description, she realized that she was already doing everything in her current position that the opening asked for, so she applied and was accepted as the Director of Summit Operations for MWO. For the next nearly three years, anything that happened at MWO was her responsibility, from staffing and hourly observations to transportation to the top of the summit (which requires a Snowcat on top of up to twenty feet of snow in the winter), from volunteer programs to search and rescue coordination…if it happened at MWO, she was involved!
While working at MWO, she had multiple opportunities to do interviews and outreach events, further solidifying her love of weather education and communication. After giving a speech at a convention for a STEM program, her presentation was ranked the best out of 40. She now devotes her time to volunteering and outreach, speaking to between 1000 and 1500 students every year (in pre-COVID times, of course). For her, speaking to students is really personal, because she was someone who was failing math in seventh grade. She’d known she wanted to be a meteorologist since she was five, so she knew that math and science were critical to that degree. Putting in the hard work and pushing through her struggles allowed her to follow her dreams and get where she is today. She hopes that her experience can inspire students, as well as enlighten them to all the options available in STEM careers. Her message that she wants to shout from the rooftops, is that “You CAN do hard things. Don’t give up because things are hard. There is value in hard work and patience and perseverance. Real things take time and work, but it’s worth it.” Putting in the hard work will always be worth it.
After a few years at MWO, she decided it was time for a change and began working as a weather translator for Weather Analytics. The company began as a small weather company that helped insurance companies verify claims with weather data, write more informed policies, and understand weather risk. She joined the company as a “weather translator” to the insurance companies. Her passion has always been in communication, and she loved being able to explain how meteorological data can help non-meteorologists in a way that they can understand. Weather Analytics then eventually acquired another company, and adopted the new name of Athenium Analytics. Through her passion and dedication to the company, she has gone from product sciences to becoming the Vice President of Customer Success, where she nurtures the relationships with their customers by ensuring they understand how Weather Analytics tools can help them.
She loves that she gets to help people, whether her account managers on her team or with customers directly. She really enjoys communicating and getting through a problem or finding a fix is so satisfying and gratifying. Knowing the data they provide is helping to solve pain points for customers is immensely rewarding. Though she never expected to work insurance, she’s learned a lot at Weather Analytics. It can be interesting to work with her wide variety of customers, and she loves the innovation and change that she can bring to her customers. I always like to ask people what goals they are working on, and Cyrena said that this year she is really focused on leadership. She wants to continue working for her team by putting others first, and making work be a place that people love coming to. She wants her employees to feel cared for, and she believes that leadership lies in that.
On a personal level, she published “The Weather Story with Frances Fox” this year, and she wants to continue getting that story out to as many as possible. The story really ties in with her root love of translating weather, and helping kids not be afraid of weather by empowering them with knowledge. Three years ago her sister in law came to her for help because her niece was afraid of thunderstorms. Cyrena is a big believer that if you fear something, you should go learn about it, so she recommended that they get her niece a good kids book to teach her about what thunder and lightning are in a way that she could understand. They looked and looked, but there was nothing out there that was both easy for kids to understand and also accurate. She never expected to be an author, but she wants kids to understand the water cycle and all the phases. The market need was there, so she set out to write a book that teaches kids about the weather in an easy to understand way. Understanding what thunder and lightning are can empower them to feel safe and prepared when storms roll in.
The book took nearly 11 months to write, and she decide to illustrate the book herself as well. She wrote it for her niece, who is now five and loves it. Cyrena’s own four year old daughter also loves it and can recite it. The coolest is when they have rainy or cloudy days and her daughter will call out that “low pressure is on the way!” That in itself is a dream come true, and Cyrena hopes to get the book into as many hands as possible. The book is a really great tool for parents to help their children be less afraid, and it does so in such a nice way that flows really well (as a mom, she wanted to make sure that it was rhythmical and nice for parents to read too).
One of my favorite questions I ask our guests is the best piece of advice they’ve ever gotten, and Cyrena has two tidbits she shared. I love them both, but one I’d never heard before, so it might be my new favorite! The first is to do something you love, and you’ll never spend a day at work. That’s why she pursued meteorology, her passion for it. You’ll have good and bad days at every job regardless, but doing what you love makes the bad days easier. The second piece of advice came during a tough time at work, when one of her mentors shared the following after something unfair happened to her:
“Look, you’re at the bottom of the swimming pool. Whether you choose to sit there or swim to the top is up to you. You can think about how you ended up at the bottom, whether you tripped there or whether someone pushed you, it actually doesn’t matter. The bottom line is you’re actually sitting at the bottom, and how you react is completely up to you. “
I really enjoyed that advice as a reminder not to get your feelings hurt, acknowledge what went wrong, and learn from those situations so that you can move on. Thank you again to Cyrena for taking the time to talk with me, and thank you to all of our readers for following along on our Third Thursday journey! It has been a treat, and I have enjoyed every conversation I’ve had this year. I hope these have been as meaningful and helpful to our readers as it has been to me.