For this week’s Third Thursday interview, I am so excited for you to meet a colleague of mine, Rick Shema. I met Rick while we were both serving terms on the American Meteorological Society Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists (BCCM). Rick owns Weatherguy.com, a company which specializes in marine meteorology. He provides forecasts and support services for marine applications, and also provides expert testimony for marine cases in litigation. His love of the water and Naval experience give him top notch credentials in his work. We’ve had the opportunity to collaborate together both on the BCCM and on a case or two over the years, and I always enjoy working with him. His passion, integrity, and enthusiasm for what he does comes through in every aspect of his work. I hope you enjoy getting to know Rick as much as I have!
Could you introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about where you’re from and how you got into meteorology?
Hi! My name is Rick Shema. My lifelong interest is understanding water. As a child, I wanted to be looking at, on top of, underneath, or in the water in its various forms. People who need to be outdoors observing the natural surroundings and wondering how physical processes occur often make excellent scientists. For my career, an ideal combination of everything water is marine meteorology. And that’s how my passion became firmly set.
Originally from a northern suburb of Philadelphia, I received my undergraduate degree from Penn State University. Before graduation, I joined the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. After eight years of sea duty, I transferred into the geophysics subspecialty and earned a Masters degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA. While in CA, I meet my wife while sailing. We ended up spending two years in Guam at the U.S. Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Center/Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Afterwards, we were sent to Mayport, FL. I was assigned as the meteorologist and oceanographer on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga CV-60. An aircraft carrier is a floating airport with 5,000 crew. As for all Navy meteorologists, once aboard a carrier your name will forever be “Black Cloud”. After the carrier tour, we were assigned to Hawaii to serve out the remainder of my 24 years of Naval service as Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Staff Oceanographer for various U.S. Navy Pacific commands. My last tour was working with the P-3 Orion squadrons in tactical environmental mission support for antisubmarine warfare. Locating and tracking submarines is a tough sport, but I liked the different challenges it presented.
What is/are your current position(s)?
After retiring from the Navy, I founded a partnership, Weatherguy.com, LLP. As the primary partner, our services include expert witness testimony in forensic meteorology. Most of my work is Admiralty cases with attorneys, marine surveyors, and insurance companies. Another aspect of my work is marine operations consulting with marine engineers, oil companies, etc on the meteorological and oceanographic components of their operations and advising ships at sea for safe passage worldwide.
As a volunteer on the professional side, I serve on the AMS Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists (BCCM). This work has been fulfilling in every respect. Working with smart, well-educated people, I have grown professionally. Alicia and I met on the board and I hope to continue our professional relationship. I also teach meteorology for sailors. Providing a better understanding of marine weather encourages informed decisions for safety at sea.
What is your workday like?
As most forensic meteorologists, every day is slightly different. But generally, here’s what I do mostly. Vessels at sea get my attention first thing. Foremost, safety at sea is my primary concern. I spend a lot of time originating forecasts and adjusting route recommendations for safe passage. I also assist ships preparing to go to sea with route planning, forecasts, and other guidance.
I work on forensic cases by remote contact with clients, collecting and studying data, writing reports, and making recommendations. I’m on the phone a lot coordinating different aspects of the cases, sometimes traveling to the site and studying the unique orographic effects on weather parameters. This is the most interesting and challenging component of my forensic work. On some days I work on BCCM duties like grading exams and improving our process and procedures.
Other days I keep up with professional developments in journal and AMS articles, COMET courses, etc.
What is the best thing about your job?
For most of my life, my job fulfills my passion for marine related activities. Also, at this late stage, is the ability to choose projects that excite me. If a case looks interesting and exciting, with good people to work with, that’s the perfect situation. Alternate motives or questionable ethics are things I avoid. The ability to choose clients was not a luxury in the early stages of the business so it was frustrating at times.
What is one goal you are working towards right now?
A work-related goal is improving our website. I’m not very happy with it. The site is an effort
to maintain and I need to figure out how to simplify updating content and including a marketplace so clients can easily upload their request for services and commit securely online.
What are some things you do in your free time?
Being with family, volunteering, and helping others gives me great pleasure. I enjoy racing sailboats, the outdoors, hiking, camping, bird watching, reading, the beach. Exercising helps me focus on work. I enjoy running, swimming, and outdoor activities.
Nonprofessional volunteer work has been church board member and chairman of a Boy Scout committee serving special needs and mental health for Scouts. My wife and I operate a foundation (Shema Family Charitable Foundation) that financially supports these Scouts and tuition assistance for college students with diverse learning differences.
I’ve been President of our residential homeowner’s association of single family homes. During my seven-years, I gained more experience in tactful dealing with people (some strong willed!) with widely differing viewpoints regarding community issues. The HOA experience improved my communication skills for my weather business gaining experience in tactfully handling opposing viewpoints as often occurs in forensic meteorology.
If a kid walked up and asked for advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?
Improve leadership skills. A good leader will succeed in any endeavor; in work, family, fun,
and volunteer work. Good leadership skills are learned, not innate. For some folks, these skills are easier to attain, for others it may require more work, but the skills can be acquired by doing what other great leaders do.
Find your passion; that’s been said a lot. It’s true. It’s not about the money, but about what makes you tick inside. Find out what keeps you up at night or what makes you get up in the morning. It may not be readily apparent at a young age first starting out. But after you experience some opportunities, you’ll discover your passion. That’s what happened with me; discovering a combination of meteorology, sailing, and a service oriented life. The rest fell into place.
What is the coolest experience you have had thus far in your career (life)?
My coolest career experience was an assignment to lead the meteorological and
oceanographic division on USS Saratoga CV-60. My division was responsible for everything meteorological and oceanographic for the carrier and six escort ships scattered around the ocean. It was certainly the most challenging job I’ve ever had, the most rewarding, and the most fun. A research project studying the atmospheric effects on electromagnetic radiation had me launching and landing in Navy jets from the carrier deck.
My coolest experience outside my career is sailing across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii, four times and working on the fifth. Being at sea with limited resources, taught me to be self-reliant, built my confidence that I could solve any problem that arose, whether it be at sea or not.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Over the years there’s a bunch of advice that I found useful.
Learn to be a great leader. Strive to inspire people to achieve a goal one person alone could not accomplish. Too often in our community of academia and researchers, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to gain leadership skills. To some it comes naturally. To others it requires a learning effort.
Have great communication skills, whether it’s speaking at a conference, over the phone, or writing reports for clients or emails. Remember, communications over the internet cannot easily be rescinded.
Always be cheerful with a high sense of confidence and a show of humor. People will be more
attracted to you which furthers your reputation, if your behavior is cheerful and positive.
“Never let them see you sweat”, from Colin Powell. Think objectively, control emotions, even when it appears your life is at stake. However chaotic the situation appears to be, learn to remain calm. The situation is not as bad as it first appears, and the worst always comes in the dark. Wait for the light to guide your way.
Some additional thoughts:
Honesty and sincerity makes you more trustworthy
Have a support group that includes mentors and friends outside of your job
Don’t be late for anything
Under promise, over deliver
Refrain from discussing politics