UH degrees: BS ’97, MS ’00 in meteorology, Mānoa
Roots: Waialua on the north shore of Oʻahu
Family: Parents Yoshi and Sandra Tanabe (UH alumni in mechanical engineering and education, respectively); wife Judy Tanabe (BEd ’94, MLIS ’98 Mānoa); two children
First job: Picking pineapple for Dole in Wahiawā for $2.85 an hour at age 15
Volunteer activity: Member and two-term president of Waialua Elementary ʻOhana parent teacher organization
Favorite UH hangout: Meteorology grad student offices in HIG where they gathered to have coffee, talk story and play darts. “The damn dartboard is likely why it took so long to get my master’s degree.”
If you want to know about Raymond Tanabe’s passions, look no further than his children’s names. A good friend suggested both—Trek for a boy “since I like hiking so much” and Rain for a girl “for, well, rain since I am a meteorologist.” His wife’s concurrence (“Can you imagine if I went with thunder and lightning?” Tanabe laughs) speaks to her good humor and patience through 10 years of dating and waiting for him to finish school and start his career. “I sure hope she thinks the wait was worth it,” he muses.
Tanabe readily credits the support of others as well. “I give my parents a lot of original credit for sticking with and believing in me,” he says. “When I didn’t graduate high school on time (long story), when I decided not to start college right away and I joined the Painters Union for a couple years (I painted the Kahului Airport and parts of the ʻIlikai Hotel) and when I decided not to be a civil engineer and study meteorology.”
At the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, it was Professor of Meteorology Tom Schroeder who “nudged and sometimes bulldozed” Tanabe from barefoot undergraduate days through graduate school.
“I vividly recall failing Calculus I the first time I took it. I walked into Dr. Schroeder’s office at the end of the semester and told him. Rather than read me the riot act, he just looked me straight in the eye and said matter-of-factly, ‘take it again.’“ Tanabe did and passed. Ditto for for Calculus II and Calculus III. “Through it all he encouraged me to stick with the program as others had not when faced with the same situation. It was certainly a good lesson in perseverance I’ll never forget,” Tanabe says.
“It was evident early on that Ray had the interest, talent and personality to go a long way in a career with the National Weather Service,” says Schroeder. He was Tanabe’s graduate advisor and supported him as a graduate research assistant with the PacificENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) Applications Center. Tanabe studied funnel clouds, tornadoes and waterspouts around the main Hawaiian Islands, a continuation of his mentor’s earlier research.
“Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned from Dr. Schroeder is that a career in meteorology is never 100 percent science. There are many other social, economic and even political aspects that often factor in.” Tanabe says. That lesson has served him well, he adds. “I have to admit, if it wasn’t for Dr. Schroeder I might have never made it into the National Weather Service to begin with. Recently, I told him half-jokingly that my career was a reflection of his expert tutelage at UH. I’m still not sure if he’s proud or embarrassed.”
Tanabe can also thank the lucky convergence that brought the National Weather Service to the Mānoa campus.
“Ray got to observe the operations and had opportunities to visit facilities on the mainland,” recalls Schroeder who still has the mug Tanabe brought him from NOAA headquarters. A frequent issue for local students is willingness to relocate to advance through the ranks, he adds.
After internships and training positions in Maryland, Honolulu and Los Angeles, Tanabe joined the National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard office as a general forecaster in 2000. He returned to Honolulu in 2006 and was promoted to senior forecaster the next year and director of operations in 2010.
“I spent all but three years in the National Weather Service under the guidance and watchful eye of Jim Weyman, the recently retired meteorologist in charge. He counseled me when I strayed, recognized me when I did good and gave me opportunities when I needed them,” Tanabe says.
“Jim left big shoes to fill, and I will certainly do my best.” His goal is to establish the office as one of the premier sources of weather information in the Pacific and lead the office into the next generation of weather forecasting and decision support services.
NWS Honolulu is the largest local weather service forecast office in the United States. As meteorologist in charge, Tanabe supervises a staff of 40, including 23 forecasters, and directs the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. In addition to local forecasts for the state of Hawaiʻi and the coastal waters, they provide national and international aviation, marine, climate and tropical forecasts, advisories and warnings.
Tanabe traces his interest in the weather to time spent outdoors as a kid and his continuing hobbies, including bowhunting and all kinds of fishing.
“I am fascinated with mesoscale meteorology, particularly how factors such as terrain, elevation, land cover and relatively small processes can influence weather. What most people don’t realize is how important these seemingly small changes to weather can be and the huge impacts they can have on society,” he says. “Being outdoors helps me to better understand these changes and their impacts.”
An example is sea and land breezes in Hawaiʻi, which tend to occur when the trade winds are very weak or non-existent. For hunters, knowing the timing of the sea/land breezes can make a world of difference when stalking an animal. For surfers, onshore versus offshore winds will make or break many surf spots. For the general public, it often means cloudy and muggy afternoons followed by clear and cool nights.
“Most people don’t realize that sea breezes can have a huge impact on departure and takeoff operations at the Honolulu International Airport,” he points out.
School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Outreach Coordinator Marcie N. W. Grabowski contributed to this article.